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Thursday, 31 December 2015

Sword of Etheria.

Sword of Etheria.

I've actually been planning to review this wonderful, obscure gem of a game for weeks, after seeing someone play it (and then shortly after playing it myself) back in November. It's a game I had never come across before, one of the small hoard of Playstation 2 games that Reecey, who does guest posts for this blog, now sleeps on, and it didn't take long for it to seize both our interests, not least because the opening section has three of the main characters assume Garo-esque armoured forms and engage in Super Sentai-esque team attack. Beautiful.

It was also never released in the US, and although that makes me look upon it a little more favourably anyway, I'm slightly confused as to why. It's a hack and slash RPG, which are always at least moderately popular, on the most successful and popular console in history, and it was made and published by Konami before they looked too deep into the pachinko machines and were driven mad by what they saw. Konami has an American branch, they would have been perfectly able to publish it themselves.

Not to mention, it has an American voice cast. I pegged Johnny Yong Bosch's ever recognisable tones right off the bat, just to start.

Graphically, it looks like what it is: A 2005 low-budget PS2 game.

Anyway, set in a world under the thumb of mysterious and powerful gods, Sword of Etheria follows Fiel, a young man whose village is attacked by an envoy of the gods, Almira, former member of the elite group OZ. With the gods' minions taking away children, Fiel - who discovers that he has powers similar to Almira's - frees Almira from her brainwashing and sets off to rescue his sister, Dorothy, and the other children. Along the way, they free Leon, one of Almira's comrades, come into conflict with members of the new OZ, and face off against the gods.

In many ways, it's a fairly typical hack and slash RPG with a focus on air-juggling, not unlike Kingdom Hearts. You have your regular attacks, attacks meant to knock enemies forward and into the air, attacks meant to knock them upwards, dodge and block mechanics, and so on and so forth. The place where the gameplay differs is mostly in how you charge your special attacks - you have a focus meter, charged by having Fiel, Leon, and Almira toss enemies between them like a game of monster volleyball. The longer an enemy remains up in the air, the more the meter charges, allowing Fiel to perform a special move and, at further levels of charge, combination moves with either one or both of his party members.

The combination attacks, incidentally, are really cool, and you'll want to try and get all of them. In total, there are about six that can be accessed in the main game (although you'll only get five in any one playthrough), and a few more in unlockable extra modes.

Look at this lovely promotional art, though.

There's also the standard Japanese Action Game Grading System, which I hate. I will never like that - I hated it in Devil May Cry, and I hate it everywhere else, always, forever.

The story is also fairly typical, and while it's always intriguing, it plays out in a mostly predictable fashion: The gods are evil, they want to get their hands on an old creation of theirs with great power, and so on and so forth. The big twist comes in the late game, where evil shadow spiders appear and are revealed to be ancient enemies of the gods, old creations of theirs from another world who drove them away and have been hunting them down - and even that is a twist we've probably all seen before.

But, as with the gameplay, there is a spin on it, that being that the story can play out in multiple different ways, winding towards one conclusion. Having high affection with Leon or Almira will change how they react to Fiel, and change which one gets to be your party member during the 'we've all been separated' phase of the plot; which member of New OZ you defeat first in a three-on-two battle with them will change which order you fight them as lone bosses later, and which one also ends up in your party for a spell.

Serioiusly, it's so pretty.

They're small touches, really, but they add considerable replay value to the game as a whole, especially as while they're only minor touches to the story, they do drastically change gameplay for long periods of the game.

Also fun were the constant tokusatsu references. The writers were clearly fans, with several of the enemies based on Showa-era Kamen Rider monsters, and the various members of OZ all essentially forming a Super Sentai team as filtered through Kamen Rider. The Wizard of Oz references were also a lot of fun, not least because they were references to the book rather than the film, which you almost never see.

The landscapes actually don't look bad in gameplay.

All in all, this is a game I actually really like - it's not the most original and innovative game, sure, but it knows what it wants to do and it does it very well. I'd like to see a sequel, but that will obviously never happen, since Konami is now terrible. Possibly we'll get a Sword of Etheria pachinko machine for us to hit the lever(!!) on.

Wednesday, 30 December 2015

Kamen Rider Ghost E11+E12

Kamen Rider Ghost
Episode 11 & Episode 12.

I think we can safely say we've reached the end of the first act with these two episodes. Takeru's (first) grace period of ninety-nine days is over, Jaberu (Javel? Javert? Jaffa?) has been defeated, Makoto's initial arc is over, and an upgraded form has appeared. The only more definitive finish to an act I've seen in a Kamen Rider series was in Gaim, where they capped it off with a flashback sequence.

In episode eleven, Saionji approaches the monolith to make his wish, only to be absorbed by it instead. Instead, the wish goes to Takeru. Alarmed by this turn of events, Jaberu unleashes a swarm of flying monsters to attack - and as Takeru reappears, the Heroic Eyecons are scattered once again. In episode twelve, with twenty-two days left before Takeru dies, the group goes searching for the remaining Eyecons, with little success. Eventually, however, Jaberu (Jabal? Javar? Django?) makes his move, setting out to kill both Kamen Riders.

So, the whole 'will Takeru choose to save himself or Kanon' choice was handled pretty predictably, with Takeru choosing Kanon over himself, but in fairness, I don't think it could have been handled any other way. Having Takeru choose to save his own life would have made him a decidedly un-heroic character, and gone against everything we know about his personality so far, not to mention killing any chance of Makoto working with him. The show got some nice mileage out of the fact that Akari and Onari clearly want Takeru to save himself, and that while they're never portrayed as bad people for wanting that, the show very clearly emphasises that it's Takeru's decision in the end. 

Lots of fire.

That's an unexpected level of nuance, really, as the show quite deftly deals with ideas of protectiveness and impossible choices and personal agency. While this show got off to a slightly shaky start (only slightly - it's always been fun, it's just that fun isn't always the same as good), it seems to have settled quite nicely now that it's out of its ghost-of-the-week phase.

Episode eleven also gives us some great performances from - well, to be honest, from everybody. The entire cast do great here, portraying extremes of joy and sorrow with a fair amount of skill. The action scenes are a bit lacklustre, mostly involving a form-switching fight against Jaberu (John? Jacob? Jamelia?), and a slightly too long fight scene against some giant monsters. Kamen Rider never excels at giant monster fights, and Ghost is no different, save that it might actually be worse at them than most Neo-Heisei shows.

Episode twelve, meanwhile, is a surprisingly quiet episode. The focus for the vast majority of the episode is on nothing happening - the clock slowly ticking down on Takeru's life, while he, Akari, and Onari try to deal with it in their own way - with Akari throwing herself into working on a solution, Onari trying to balance searching for Eyecons and training, and Takeru clearly resigning himself to fading, and trying to make the most of what time he has left.

Aran, you're acting like a jilted boyfriend.

Moreso than episode eleven, twelve is an episode that lived or died on the performance of its three principle actors, and all three of them did great. It was an emotional episode, and the moment when Takeru eventually fades away was, while a bit corny (truly, guys, angel feathers showing happy memories? Is that - someone had to pitch that idea, and someone else had to approve it, and I'm just not sure how that happened. I know it's in the opening, but that's different), a very emotional moment.

The episode does, admittedly, go a bit downhill from that point, with Takeru's meeting with Ryu seeming incredibly rushed, and the fight with Jaberu (which is preceded by Takeru literally exploding in what might be the silliest moment of the series so far) even more so. But given that that's the last five minutes or so of the episode, I can definitely cope with that - especially since 'downhill' here doesn't mean 'it was terrible', so much as 'it was a bit naff.'

I'm also not entirely sold on the Fighting Boost suit. It's just - it's very red, isn't it? It's really very red. I am actually quite distracted by how red it is.

Soft lens.

We also got a great scene in this episode with Makoto and Aran (Alan?) which made it clear that they are, in fact, genuine friends. At the moment, it's looking like when Makoto and Kanon were sucked into the Ganma World, it was Aran and the Royal Family who saved Makoto, and he swore himself into service to them? Hence all this talk about treason, and Makoto and Aran seeming to know each other personally, despite the fact that Aran is a ghost prince.

All in all, I really liked these episodes. There's no episode next week, owing to New Years, but I'll have an act one masterpost up at some point, and I'm looking forward to episode thirteen, where we'll be seeing the Goemon Eyecon in action, Goemon being the semi-legendary outlaw from Japanese folklore. 

Tuesday, 29 December 2015

Assassin's Creed: Syndicate.

Assassin's Creed: Syndicate.

My tale with Assassin's Creed is a common one: I adored it up until about Revelations, and then my love for it faded, due to a combination of just sheer exhaustion over yearly (and now multiple-times-a-year-ly) releases, frustration over the increasingly all-things-to-all-people gameplay, and a shift to much more boring time periods and locations (the American Revolution might be the most boring time period they could have done, and Victorian London is only marginally better).

Thus it was without much excitement that I rented Syndicate, the latest entry in the franchise. I hadn't played Unity at all, although I might at some point in the future, so I was coming back to the series after having only played up until Black Flag, itself kind of an odd outlier in the franchise. Incidentally, that was also one of my very first reviews on this blog.

Set in Victorian London, Assassin's Creed: Syndicate follows Jacob and Evie Frye, assassin siblings who have headed to London to free it from the control of businessman, gangster, and templar Starrick. As the two chip away at the man's business and criminal empire, they also go hunting for one of the elusive Pieces of Eden: A Shroud, hidden somewhere within London, that boasts extraordinary healing powers. 

Trains play a large part in this game.

While it's the same basic formula as previous Assassin's Creed, there's been an obvious push to streamline the whole thing. Instead of a tutorial strung out over the first three hours of the game, you now have a significantly less in-depth tutorial strung out over the first half hour; gameplay elements have been reduced and simplified to create an experience that reeks a lot less of 'let's put every gameplay element we can think of in'; the plot can be summed up in about two sentences, and while smaller mission plots often suffer from the Assassin's Creed problem of 'I have no idea what's going on here', it's generally always obvious how it relates to your eventual end goal. Missions are more fast-paced, with focus shifted onto assassinating your way through a building, as opposed to interminable 'trail this character without being seen' sequences that were the bread and butter of, say, Black Flag.

It makes for a sharper, smoother experience, trimming away some of the fat that previous entries in the series had built up, and the result is a better game for it. I actually found myself enjoying this game, something I've not been able to say about a game in this franchise for quite a while.

The thing is, while I enjoyed it, I didn't enjoy it that much. As soon as another game came along, my attention was dragged away from Assassin's Creed, and it was difficult to wrench it back. My enjoyment of the game could only survive in an environment where it was the only video game available, and I feel like that describes it perfectly. It's fun, sure, but it's not especially engaging, and it doesn't bring anything new to the table that might serve to keep my interest - in fact, once you've played about three hours of it, you've played it all. Every gameplay feature, setting, enemy type, every gameplay mode, every innovation in it, and nearly every pieces of interesting equipment - you'll get them in the first two hours, and after that, the game is out of carrots to dangle in front of your face.

Also, you can murder innocent beef eaters and policemen. Heroically.

After a certain point, I was unwilling to commit any more time to it, because all it could offer me at that point was a parade of famous faces. That seems more cringeworthy than usual, too: I was fine when Charles Darwin and Charles Dickens showed up, but by the time Florence Nightingale had appeared my eyes were rolling around in my head every time a famous face appeared. Has Assassin's Creed always been this egregious with their use of famous historical figures? It feels like they have, but I'd never noticed it quite this much before.

Ultimately, this game just doesn't bring enough to the table to sustain itself, and it feels like it's half-baked because of it - a set of gameplay features and plot developments that never manage to be quite interesting enough to keep a player's attention over a long period of time, and never grow or change in a way that makes playing it all the way through worthwhile. Even the open world elements grow stale quickly, especially as it swiftly becomes apparent that most of the open world missions are actually quite awkward to play, and very much not helped by the lack of a real fast-travel system.

Kicking. Which almost never manages to push anyone off anything.

All in all, this is a fun game in short bursts, but in longer bursts it rapidly starts to show its flaws. It's technically well made, but not interesting enough to stand out in a very competitive market, and that, in a way, is the most damning thing I can say about it. It's time for the franchise to stop, or at least take a break, and while it would be a shame to see a game franchise I used to love end like that, it's probably better than seeing it wither and die over the span of another decade.

Monday, 28 December 2015

Owari no Seraph: Battle in Nagoya

Owari no Seraph:
Battle in Nagoya.

So, it's no secret that I actually kind of hated the first cour of Owari no Seraph. Quite apart from the truly dire start it got off to, with some truly bizarre 'everyone's at high school' episodes that made very little sense and involved long, long strings of exposition, even when it picked up towards its latter half, becoming much more enjoyable, it seemed uneasy, having no clue as to whether it was an action show or a character-focused drama or just plain manipulative dross aimed at ticking every box it could.

Well, I'm happy to say that Battle in Nagoya was my favourite Saturday anime this season! It was also my only Saturday anime this season. But in all seriousness, this cour has been better than the first, as the show kind of finds its feet and figures out precisely what it wants to be.

Picking up shortly after the events of the first cour, Guren and the Moon Demon Company head off towards Nagoya on a seeming suicide mission to assassinate a gathering of vampiric nobles, led by the abnormally strong noble Eusford Crowley. As the plan falls apart and the mission goes from bad to worse, Yu is forced to resort to more and more extreme measures to get the power to save his comrades. Meanwhile, Mika is tasked by vampiric noble Krul Tepes with finding Yu and bringing him back to her, while amongst the humans, ambitious and machiavellian Kureto Hiragi sets in motion a plan to harness the dangerous powers of the Seraph of the End to end the war once and for all.

Yu's new ability, which he uses, like, twice.

We'll start on the weakest aspect of this cour, and that's Mika. While he gets one of the best scenes in the show, alternately plotting with and threatening a human soldier as he tries to get information out of her while keeping his cover with the vampires, before eventually having to kill her (set to a stunning balladic version of first cour opening X.U.), his plotline is generally pretty weak, and often feels like an afterthought. It fizzles out to a fairly uninspiring end, as he joins Yu's gang with very little resistance (and everyone more or less accepts him as 'Yu's vampire boyfriend'), and while that's probably vastly preferable to a protracted are-we-enemies-or-friends plotline, which has been done to death more than once, it also raises the question of what, exactly, the point of this plotline even was. 

None of the plotlines in this cour are particularly complex, deep, or strong, with the most complicated one eventually suffering from the writers seemingly throwing up their hands, telling the audience what's going on in what I can only describe as 'an almost comically matter-of-fact expository monologue' so that they can move on to the grand set piece finale, which unfolds more or less exactly how you'd expect it to.

(The villains aren't massively inspiring either, with Ferid only occasionally showing up to ham at things, and Kureto getting some pretty limited screentime and very poorly explained motivations.)

Goshi is brilliant and I love him.

It makes up for that by having a lot of really strong action scenes. The fight scenes in the last cour were okay, but often uninspiring - this time, they are almost uniformly fun to watch, whether it's Squad Shinoa facing off against Squad Guren, or multiple squads ganging up on a single vampire noble. A little vexingly, we still never get to see Guren fight properly, and with there yet being no second series on the horizon, we might never.

Technically, the series is fairly strong too. There are some pacing problems, definitely, but the animation is generally solid, it has an excellent (if extremely typical of Hiroyuki Sawano) soundtrack, and the voice acting is all pretty good, with a cast drawn primarily from the many hundreds of veteran voice actors. 

It is, all in all, a very typical shounen anime. While the first cour was marked out by being uniquely horrible, there isn't really anything unique about the second cour: It's enjoyable, if a bit manipulative, and it will go over well with fans of the genre. It's solid, fun to watch, and marketable, and it doesn't seem to have ever been intended to be anything else. Which is fine, really.

Not entirely sure what to say about this one.

As mentioned before, no second series has been announced as yet, but that's hardly unusual. The series seemed to be popular, with good ratings, and the manga yet continues, so it will most likely get a sequel a few years down the line, and I'll most likely watch it and enjoy it when it does. That said, I won't be devastated if it doesn't get one, and if I'm being honest, I don't think anybody would be.

It did leave itself open for one, it's worth noting, with several very deliberate sequel hooks, so apparently the writers, at least, are confident of a second series.

Saturday, 26 December 2015

Doctor Who S35 X-Mas Special: The Husbands of River Song

Doctor Who
S35 X-Mas Special:
The Husbands of River Song.

To be honest, I would have been perfectly happy without a Christmas Special. Doctor Who's Christmas Specials are never its strongest episodes, tending to feel more like slightly rushed filler put out to fill a need, and that's been true ever since New Who has started. This one, which sees the return of River Song and a headless suit of techno-armour.

Arriving on a colony world, the Doctor is quickly grabbed by a man who believes him to be a surgeon. Taken to a ship, he discovers River, now the wife of intergalactic conqueror King Hydroflax, wants the Doctor to remove a rare diamond lodged in his brain. It quickly comes out that River is quite happy for the Doctor to simply take his head, as she wants to sell the diamond on the black market. Getting his head, which is still alive, the two flee from Hydroflax's body, a sapient suit of armour intent on getting its head back.

I'm not really sure what there is to say about this episode. If you've seen any Christmas special of Doctor Who, you will know exactly what's coming, because it is standard Christmas special fare, which is to say that it's not really fun or enjoyable or engaging. 

Long suffering sigh.

There is a single joke throughout the episode, and that is Steven Moffat elbowing you in the ribs and going "Women, am I right? Can't live with 'em, can't murder 'em without going to prison, eh? Eh? Eh?" At this point, it's a joke Moffat has made so many times across so many different shows that I can no longer be offended by it. It's just there, like a red-faced uncle telling the same offensive joke every time you see him: It was offensive, once, and now it's just like white noise.

In many ways, River is the accumulation of all of Moffat's weird views on women, as he attempts - truly, genuinely, bravely attempts - to write a strong female character but finds himself unable to write anything more than a bizarre jumbling together of 'the wife' cliches. In many ways, this has never been more true than it has been in this episode, which as mentioned before, is basically just an hour of Moffat leering at you and hissing "Women, am I right?" at regular intervals.

There's not much else to talk about. Hydroflax seems to be intended as a comedic villain, but he's never actually funny, and the head becomes a non-entity part of the way through the episode, leaving the less comedic but nonetheless extremely unintimidating armour as the main villain for the episode. The plot turns are predictable, the pacing poor, and in slower moments the episode tends to try and spice itself up with some gross-out moments, such as a man peeling off half his face - but it never really provokes any kind of audience reaction other than dull acknowledgement that it happened. 

Oh, and Matt Lucas is in this episode.

Towards the end, we have the painful 'Moffat's trying to be meaningful' sequence, which now seems to be a staple of every episode he writes and mostly involves the Doctor intoning functionally meaningless, cliche-riddled sentences while someone stares up at him, eyes shining with tears, and so on, and so forth. After about a minute of it, I just tuned it out, because honestly, what else was I meant to do at that point.

If having River back really added anything to her storyline, maybe I would have looked a little more kindly on this episode, but it didn't. Of course it didn't: Her storyline was over and done with, finished, she'd been given a passable send-off. Digging her up just so that you'd have an old face to hinge a Christmas Special around was a strange move, one that would never work out, and the justification that 'well, we needed some kind of companion' feels lackadaisical: You've created single episode companions before, guys, you could have done so again.

In the interests of something approaching balance, I will say that Peter Capaldi and Alex Kingston both put on good performances. They're about the only people who did, and the best performances in the world would not have saved this episode, but nevertheless, they were both on form in this episode.


I think the biggest thing I can say about this episode is that it's not offensively terrible. This isn't the Zygon two-parter, it's just a kind of bland, filler-ish episode where Moffat sobs over how all women are terrible for the fiftieth time. It's there, to be enjoyed or not as you like, and it doesn't really warrant any particular reaction beyond mild distaste. Presumably, we'll be seeing Doctor Who back next year - dear god, please let it be Moffat's last series - with a new companion and some new storylines, so that will - be a thing, I guess.

I suppose I'll do that as an ongoing, but I'll see how I feel closer to the time.

Friday, 25 December 2015

Merry Christmas (and a Rec Post).

Merry Christmas
(And some Recs).

Hello, everyone. It's Christmas Day, so happy that to all of you, and as such, I am giving myself a day's break and not doing a review or editorial today. It's been a really good year for this blog, actually, I'm quite happy with how my audience have grown and how I've improved as a reviewer and diversified my content in that time. I'll be talking more about that come January, when we hit the two year anniversary of this blog.

For my Christmas, I have been - mostly playing Bloodborne? I hope to have a review of that up the week after next, if everything goes well on it, which it might not. I've also briefly gone to the pub and had a dream in which someone said that dolphins were the oiliest dogs. Not in that order, it was dream first, then waking up and playing Bloodborne, then pub, then this.

Anyway, while I'm not doing a review or an editorial today, I am going to do a short rec post. Because you all love recommendations, right? They're basically reviews boiled down to their purest form.

(My apologies, I've had - not that much alcohol, actually, about two shots of whiskey and two shots of Sourz, which are lovely. I am, however, a lightweight, so I am a bit tipsy. Only a bit, though.)

An excellent abridged series with pretty high production values and some surprisingly emotional moments, pulled off better than the series it's actually abridging ever managed to. It's one of only four abridged series I watch regularly, because abridged series are terrible nine times out of ten, but it's funny and well made and I recommend it to people who have seen SAO or never want to see SAO because it's the most obnoxious anime ever created.

Another great abridged series with really good production values. It's not a perfect creation - there are occasionally long lapses in jokes, and there were a few moments that put me a little on edge, but it's still really good, and I've watched it about three times now. The voice cast is excellent, the production values are great, the writing is usually very strong, and I do strongly recommend this.

RWBY is currently on its second week of a two week break, which means that now is the perfect chance to catch up on it. Volume 3 has been stellar so far, with some excellent fight scenes, some great plot movement, and some fun character moments. We've finally got to see long-awaited characters Qrow and Winter, and we've got to find out more about Cinder's plan, as well as seeing her make some more progress on it.

I recommend this every time I do a rec post, which admittedly not often, but consider this: The most recent page has adorable Robot-Shadow romantic shenanigans. Why would you not want to read that? You do want to read that. You do.

A part of Eurogamer, Outside Xbox is three people doing funny videos about video games. I personally enjoy their lists, which are excellent and hilarious, and I strongly recommend that everybody checks them out. If you don't know where to start amidst their many, many videos, I recommend starting with 7 Baller Apartments in Video Games That Make Ours Look Rubbish, 7 Guys Who Are Definitely Not Going To Die in Video Games, or 7 Health and Safety Nightmares Down to Insanely Negligent Workplace Design.

Thursday, 24 December 2015

Editorial: Winter 2015 Trailer Round-up

Editorial: Winter 2015
Trailer Round-up.

We last did this just after Comic-Con, but as the year has dragged on, a whole bunch of trailers have come out - more than we actually have time to cover here, but we'll give a rundown of a select few of them. These films are predominantly coming out in the first half of the next year, with a few creeping their way onto cinema screens at the close of the year.

Captain America: Civil War.

I think I'm starting to experience a little bit of a Marvel burnout, I'm just not as excited for Civil War (or 'Basically Just Avengers 3') as everyone else seems to be. I'm looking forward to seeing Black Panther, who briefly gets an appearance in this trailer, but it doesn't help at all that the Civil War storyline was one of the worst storylines in comics, and I can't see a way that it can really be done well.

Still, this looks like a solid action film with a lot of things exploding and a lot of fight scenes. I might not be keen, but it will definitely be a massive success at the box office, and to be honest, it will probably be a very good film (most of Marvel's films are, after all), as well, and no doubt I'll warm to it once it's out. 

Also, it has the new Spiderman in it, so that's definitely a thing.

That's out on 06/05/16.

X-Men: Apocalypse.

I am consistently surprised whenever a new X-Men film comes out, because sometimes it's a genuine struggle to remember that the films after the disastrous X-Men 3 actually exist.

But here's X-Men: Apocalypse! Much like Days of Future Past, I don't think anybody will be able to describe it as an amazing, life-changing film, but it looks like it'll be a fun action flick, and it's nice to see tiny versions of the original films' X-Men.

If you really like the new crop of X-Men films, and a lot of people do, then this should actually be a treat for you. If the trailer is anything to go by, this could very well end up being the best X-Men film since the second one. I'm hopeful about this film, even if I'm not excited, per se - it's one that I'll definitely catch on DVD as soon as it comes out, but probably won't see in cinemas.

That's out on 27/05/16.

Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them.

Here's a film that nobody asked for or wanted, and yet will still be inexplicably popular because it has the Harry Potter name attached. It's like the crystallisation of everything that people say is wrong with adaptation culture. 

It's also apparently set in America, despite the fact that America barely factors into the Harry Potter universe at all, because god forbid we not cater to Americans.

The trailer looks - fine, I guess. Not earth-shattering. Not even that exciting. It looks like a very by the numbers adventure film with a good cast. Not really anything to write home about, but hey, maybe when it comes out on DVD I'll watch it and change my mind.

That'll be coming out on 18/8/16.

Star Trek: Beyond.

Nope. Sorry, Star Trek, you lost me with Into Darkness. But if I'm being honest, even if it hadn't, nothing about this trailer would really inspire: The Enterprise being destroyed and the crew being stuck on an unknown world is an interesting turn with a lot of potential, but this trailer felt so lifeless and thin on the ground.

There's a lot of snappy one-liners and a lot of explosions and fight scenes, and a lot of people making ominous remarks about 'the frontier pushing back', but I actually have no idea, after watching this trailer, what the plot is, why I should shell out ten quid to watch this film, what the draw is meant to be, why this is different from every other sci-fi film on the market, except that it has the 'Star Trek' title attached.

Apparently it has Idris Elba in it, but he wasn't in the trailer, unfortunately.

That comes out on 22/07/16.

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (Trailer 2).

You know what the most interesting thing about this trailer is? It opens on a romance novel cliche. A wealthy billionaire gets out of a car, cameras flashing and people screaming. "Who's that?" asks the plucky young reporter. "You must be new," someone says. "That's Bruce Wayne."

That's a scene that - well, I read through large amounts of romance novels, so I have read that exact scene before, often, and also the scene immediately afterwards when the two catch each other at the fabulous party and don't get along, but feel strangely drawn to each other.

I mean, that is one way that this film could mark itself out, rather than fading into inevitable obscurity as it flees from Civil War - have an actual Batman and Superman romance. The rest of the trailer is fairly generic, and has a lot of footage that we've seen before, but we do get some nice shots of Doomsday. 

That will be coming out on 25/03/16.


So, we're all agreed that this film will be terrible, right? Good, good.

This seems to be a loose adaptation of the first Warcraft game, aka 'the one that nobody really cares about', so they're crippling themselves before they're even out the door here. Why on earth would you not just adapt Warcraft III, a game that you could easily make four films out of and which everyone absolutely adores? Be reasonable here.

Highlights of the trailer include a parade of startlingly generic actors (I actually can't tell any of the humans apart from each other in this trailer, really), some CGI that looks like it would be more at home in 2005, and an Inexplicably Sexy And Feminine Orc-Lady Love Interest, because of course. Of course.

This will be coming out on 10/06/16.

The Legend of Tarzan.

... So, genuine question, guys. When you decided to insert a white saviour storyline into a story that didn't have that before, were you proud of that choice? 

Did it seem like a good idea to you at the time? I mean, you've managed to take a story that was written in 1912, and had some skiffily racist overtones in places even for the time period, and make it worse

I'm just speechless. I'm utterly speechless. 

Apart from that gigantic elephant in the room, there is nothing in this trailer that looked at all interesting. Of all the trailers on the list, this is the one that comes across as the most cynical, the most cash-grabbing, the most mercenary, and considering that Warcraft is on this list, that's saying quite a lot.

That will be coming out in sometime, I mean who really cares, none of you were planning on seeing this film even before you read this.

Wednesday, 23 December 2015

One Punch Man

One Punch Man

Social networking can sometimes be the best advertising possible, and that is no more true than in my decision to watch One Punch Man. I'd seen the posters for it, but since it looked like a fairly typical, slightly naff shounen anime, I'd decided to give it a miss, along with - to be honest, along with most of the anime airing this past season. It was only when I saw gifs of it online, and was urged by friends to watch it, that I actually considered watching and reviewing it. Then, in the past three days, I mainlined the entire series in time to get this review out.

A satirical take on the shounen anime formula, One Punch Man follows Saitama, a former salaryman and now amateur superhero who is so strong that he kills everything he fights in a single punch. Desperate for a satisfying fight, Saitama, a lazy and absent-minded sort, seeks out the strongest monsters he can. He is quickly joined by Genos, a cyborg who wishes to grow stronger and believes that he can do so by studying under Saitama, not realising that Saitama has absolutely nothing to teach him.

(In a slightly odd turn, this anime is adapted from a manga which was in turn adapted from a webcomic, which in and of itself kind of pushes at the edge of parodying adaptation culture already.)


That's a synopsis that doesn't quite do the show justice, as it is - more or less from start to finish - a warm, funny comedy full of likable characters and well-pitched humour. It gleefully, but fairly good-naturedly, satirises shounen anime (along with some jabs at the wider superhero genre and tokusatsu) with the kind of joy and detail that you could only get from someone who genuinely enjoys the genre. The humour is sharp, on-point, and relatively varied, ranging from fairly crude jokes to joking references to other media to some surprisingly detailed, involved jokes.

Where the show really excels, though, is visual humour, setting up some truly wonderful visual gags. Saitama himself is a running visual joke, often drawn from the neck up in a much more simplistic style to everything around him, even in dramatic scenes, and that's a joke that never gets old

Part of why it works so well is that this show is just beautiful. It's one of the best animated animes of the year (it probably just barely loses out to Digimon Adventure Tri), particularly excelling whenever it has an action scene, which are frenetic, awe-inspiring, gorgeous to look at, extremely dramatic and, usually at the same time, deeply, deeply silly.

Saitama was remarkably good looking pre-baldness.

The characters are also all pretty fun. Most of them are fairly one note - fan favourite Licenseless Rider and the gaggle of S-ranked heroes introduced at the end are a joy to watch, but none of them are deep, layered characters, and they're not really meant to be - but Saitama has a fair amount of depth to him, his comical and lazy exterior hiding a warm, and fairly canny, personality. The King of the Deep arc, not quite at the end of the series, has a great moment demonstrating this, but you see bits and pieces of it throughout the series.

To be honest, this is very much the kind of series that I usually wouldn't like. It's very episodic and arc-based, while I prefer more serialised stories; it's predominantly comedy with some action thrown in, whereas I prefer serious stories with comedy added in; it draws large chunks of its inspiration from Dragonball Z, which I have never been tremendously fond of.

But it works. There's genuinely intelligent, hilarious writing behind this, skillful balancing (and contrasts between) humour and action, excellent pacing, good voice acting, an earworm-heavy soundtrack, an interesting cast, and, as mentioned before, some astoundingly good animation. Probably the only things keeping it from being my anime of the year are the fact that it is so far outside what I usually like, and the fact that it's come in a year where, while good anime have been thin on the ground, what few good anime we have had have been excellent.

Genos is adorable.

The story ends on - quite possibly the best line in the series ("A man who is a hero for fun ... and profit," delivered as dramatically as you can deliver what is essentially a reference to memes), and on several sequel hooks, such as Genos learning that S-ranked hero Metal Knight, a cyborg like him, is his 'enemy' and possibly responsible for the death of his family, and equally evil A-ranked hero Amai Mask plotting terrible things. I don't know if One Punch Man will be getting a sequel, and this being an anime we may well not know for a year or two yet, but I hope it does. It's a story with plenty of life in it, and the manga has many storylines not yet covered by the anime.

Also, I found out that apparently there are people who don't realise it's satire, and that's just beautiful. That's just so beautiful.

Tuesday, 22 December 2015

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Star Wars:
The Force Awakens.

(Contains spoilers.)

I wasn't actually planning on watching this film until it came out on DVD, because I'm not tremendously keen on cinemas, and I don't have quite the nostalgic attachment to Star Wars that a lot of people do. While I've always enjoyed it, including the prequels please don't stab me, it was never a shimmering moment of my childhood, not least because Return of the Jedi came out nearly a decade before I was born.

I was eventually persuaded primarily by the fact that people around me wanted to talk to someone about it and I am a sucker for conversation topics. Love some good conversation topics. Love 'em.

Set some time after the original trilogy, The Force Awakens follows tech scavenger Rey on the junkyard world of Jakku, who has to go on the run with defected stormtrooper Finn after she comes into possession of a droid targeted by the First Order, an organisation that rose out of the Empire and idolises Darth Vader, who want to find Luke Skywalker. Fleeing Jakku, the three end up throwing in with Han Solo and Chewbacca as they make their way across the galaxy to try to find the Resistance, a New Republic backed group that fights against the First Order. Meanwhile, under the command of Sith Lord Kylo Ren, and the draconian and ruthless General Hux and Captain Phasma, the First Order unveils their new weapon - a battle station set into a planet, which can destroy any world from anywhere in the galaxy.

So, I did actually really like this film. It's technically very strong, combining excellent pacing, concise writing, and sharp dialogue with a variety of beautiful landscapes and a cast absolutely chock full of excellent actors. 

See? You're fine with the mask, dear.

By which I mean chock full. The name recognition of Star Wars and nostalgia value means that there are veteran actors in even minor roles, such as Daniel Craig as a stormtrooper with two lines, Thomas Brodie-Sangster as a random Imperial officer, and Freema Agyeman as 'startled woman on Coruscant.'

The central cast, meanwhile, are all near-newcomers. John Boyega and Daisy Ridley, Londoners who play Finn and Rey respectively, have both never been leads in a major blockbuster film before; Adam Driver and Oscar Isaac, playing main villain Kylo Ren and deuteragonist Poe Dameron, are more prominent actors, but not by much. They're all incredibly strong actors, hitting both comedic and dramatic beats perfectly - the only one that I would say is a problem is Adam Driver.

Driver's Ren is fine when he's wearing his mask, not least because when he's wearing his mask, his voice is filtered to make it sound mechanical and echo-y. When he takes it off, however, he does not come across as a compelling villain: I have never encountered an actor less intimidating, and every maskless Ren scene is slightly painful to watch, as he acts like Hayden Christensen's Anakin magnified to the power of ten. 

There's a lot to take in here.

Maybe that was intentional: Ren, after all, isn't meant to be an out-and-out villain, but a villain in the making, manipulated by people more powerful and cunning than he is. Certainly Driver was intentionally playing up the vulnerability and youth of the character for effect. It doesn't really work, though, since the performance just kills any intimidation factor the character has. There are ways to balance 'tortured character struggling with their own morals' and 'intimidating villain' - that was Vader's schtick in Return of the Jedi.

It's a nitpick in a film which is startlingly strong. It's not a lifechanging film, and let's face it, it was never intended to be, but it is a fun, deeply enjoyable action film with two very capable and engaging leads. I will happily watch Finn and Rey (and Poe) run around the galaxy for two more films. Happily.

But it does kind of play up the nostalgia factor a bit too much, to the point where it actually feels almost cynical rather than joyful. It's a joy seeing Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher back, but the film overuses Ford a shade, and makes a smidgeon too many references back to previous films, with the result being that it feels like there was a nostalgia quota the writers had to fulfill. 

Apparently I am just as awestruck by Gwendolyne Christie's terrible radiance and talent
even when it's just her voice.

What did surprise me, but which I can't decide if I like or dislike, is the film's willingness to cut and burn parts of the universe. Coruscant, setting for almost all of the prequels, is destroyed, and the New Republic with it; Han is killed off; the New Jedi Order are gone again. These are massive changes, and on some level, that made me uncomfortable, even though as a genuine entry in the franchise with an equal standing to the six other films, the film definitely can make those huge sea changes.

All in all, this is probably a candidate for my best film of the year, and I'm very much looking forward both to Rogue One and Episode VIII. I will be absolutely delighted to see Finn and Rey back, and I am very much interested to see where their story goes. And also to see Kylo Ren never remove his mask again ever. Also, to see more of Gwendolyne Christie. I have many hopes and dreams for this trilogy.

Also, Ren's lightsaber is still impractical, sorry.

Monday, 21 December 2015

Dreamfall Chapters - Book Four: Revelations

Dreamfall Chapters
Book Four: Revelations

You know how long it's been since the last Dreamfall Chapters episode? Six months. It took six months to get a new episode out. A significant part of that is the upgrade in the version of Unity they were using, which required going back and implementing the engine for all previous episodes. Despite saying that this change would make the whole game look better and run smoother, the eventual result seemed to be that it looked the same, didn't run any better (in fact, it ran worse for me), and a gigantic wait between episodes.

I may be harping on about this, but can you imagine if Telltale Games did that? They were duly slaughtered in the media for the excessive weight between some of the Tales from the Borderlands episodes, and those were nowhere near half a year long.

Anyway, in this episode, Zoe, now in Archadia, seeks to reach the Purple Mountains and the Oular, where she's been told that the First Dreamer is. To do so, she must enter Abnaxus' abode, deal with April Ryan's old enemy Roper Klacks, and face the Yaga, a primordial force of nightmare that has existed since before the twin worlds. Worse still, she knows that when she reaches the First Dreamer, she'll be faced with a choice - one that will change her life forever. Meanwhile, Kian arrives at the prison camp of Ge'en, and discovers the terrible experiments they have been running there - with Hami in close pursuit.

A majestic creature.

To be honest, this feels like an entirely different beast than the episodes we've had so far. While the three previous episodes have fitted very much into the 'Dreamfall' line of stories - which despite being sequels to The Longest Journey have always been substantially different in tone and content - this episode is constantly harking back to The Longest Journey, bringing back Roper, Brian, and Abnaxus in major roles and constantly referencing April's tangles with Roper and the Gribbler. It feels almost nostalgic in nature, a two hour wistful reminiscence about the game that started it all.

Which isn't a bad thing, and to be honest, this is my favourite episode so far. I do question the title, though: If you call your episode 'revelations', then one of the key things I expect is an answer to the biggest question of the series so far. That is: 'Who is the Prophet?' If anything, the episode only muddies the issue, pushing both Brian and, bizarrely given that he's not shown up in Dreamfall Chapters prior to this, Roper as candidates. Instead, the revelations all seem to be largely related to the cosmogeny of the twin worlds, which is all very interested, but not a question I actually ever asked.

Kian also gets a bit shafted in this episode, as he has in episodes before (ah, I remember the very first episode, where he only had about twenty minutes of story time), with his trip to Ge'en feeling less like an important part of the plot (we learned that evil things were happening at the internment camp, which frankly, anybody could have told you) and more like a reason to keep him out of Zoe's way and away from the rebels while the Azadi massacred them. He's in what amounts to a plot holding pattern, with the only real plot movement for him being Hami arriving so that Kian can get him on side (off screen).

Onor also needs to return to the Discworld book he came from post-haste.

Zoe's section of the plot also feels strangely rushed. After building to her traveling to Arcadia, she's in it for only a little over an episode, as plot threads involving the First Dreamer are hurriedly wrapped up to prepare her for, presumably, a final showdown with WATIcorp and the Undreaming. It's a far cry from the hopping-between-worlds schtick we had in The Longest Journey and Dreamfall: The Longest Journey, and to be honest, I almost expected to see Kian end up travelling to Stark somehow, and I'm a little disappointed that he didn't. It'd make him the first person in-series to come from Arcadia and go to Stark, rather than the other way around.

Abnaxus' Abode.

Still, this is probably one of the stronger episodes of the series so far, and I did actually enjoy it a lot. While Red Thread Games had said that book five would be out by the end of the year, that seems enormously unlikely right now, as I write this review on the twenty-first of December, with no release date for book five in sight. To add to that woe, The Longest Journey Home has possibly been cancelled - or at the very least, its fate is up in the air - and Red Thread Games has remarked that Funcom might want to handle future installments in-house, so that's a thing. If I had to hanker a guess, I'd say we'll be seeing the next episode some time around March or April.

I suppose the latter would be fitting, in a way, at least.

Saturday, 19 December 2015

Kamen Rider Ghost E9+E10

Kamen Rider Ghost
Episode 9 & Episode 10

Well, with the final 'let's find a heroic spirit' episode, the plot has really kicked into high gear in these two episodes, with several plotlines coming to a head, which is all very exciting. I do think these are two of the best episodes of Ghost so far, which is great, but doesn't leave me with a tremendous amount to say about them. Say what you will about Drive, there were always a dozen flaws I could pick apart in each episode, getting a whole review out of even just one episode was easy.

In episode nine, Takeru and the gang go searching for a Doctor Igarashi, an old associate of Takeru's father who helped him research the monolith, but has since gone missing. Meanwhile, Makoto becomes even more desperate to save Kanon, and Jaberu (Javel? Javert? We'll - talk about that one in a second), the Superior Ganma, comes from the Ganma World to support Aran in his mysterious plan. In episode ten, with all fifteen Heroic Eyecons manifested and split between Takeru, Makoto, and Saionji, Saionji sets in motion a plan to seize all of them for himself. Meanwhile, Takeru wavers on whether wishing himself back to life is truly the right thing to do, and Jaberu (Jabber? Jabelle?) decides that Makoto is guilty of treason.

So, first things first, how do you spell Jaberu's name? Wikipedia says 'Jaberu', so that's what I'm going with for now, but I've also seen 'Javel', 'Javerl', 'Javelle', and 'Javert' - the last of which would make a lot of sense, because the Ganma seem to always be themed after either historical figures or characters from novels set in the real world (such as in the case of the Insect Ganma, who seems to be themed after Mary Russell, Laurie R. King's 1920s female detective/bee-keeper), and Javert would fit the bill for the latter (and it would tie into his dogmatic approach to everything).

Nice design, though. Very sleek.

We'll probably get an official romanisation eventually, if we haven't already (which we might have done, answers on a postcard if we have), but for the moment, I'm going to refer to him as Jaberu.

Second things second: Benkei. The Benkei form, I - hate it. I just really hate it. Visually, it's the blandest looking form we've had so far, but most of the reason I don't like it is that hammer. It doesn't look like a hammer, it looks like what it is: A spider stuck to the end of a sword, and the fight choreographers seem to know that, because Takeru has not once used it as a hammer except in his finishing move (where it became a CG energy hammer anyway). It makes every fight scene with Benkei in look incredibly clumsy, and the weapon itself just looks naff. Naff by Kamen Rider standards, of all things, and their weapons don't generally look brilliant.

I doubt we'll be seeing it much, though: Musashi, Robin, Edison and Newton seem firmly set as Takeru's main Heroic Eyecon forms, and the addition of Toucon Boost form and its associated Eyecons means that Benkei will, gratifyingly, have vanished into obscurity before long. What a relief. What a blessed, blessed relief.

Oh, no, we'll never go out on the lake once you're gone. She'll find it too upsetting.

The big thing about these episodes, though, is that the plot has kicked into high gear, and golly gosh, am I glad that Takeru's response to finding out about Kanon is 'I have to help her instead of myself.' Actually, everyone's reactions to this news make perfect sense and work with their characters: Not just Takeru's self-sacrifice, but also Akari insisting that he shouldn't sacrifice himself - it would have been very easy for a writer to mess that one up and have it seem like Akari is saying that Kanon should stay dead, but the writing managed to pitch it right, in that it was very obvious that what Akari was saying is that Takeru, who's on a time limit, should sort himself out first, so that they can all focus their attention on bringing Kanon (who doesn't seem to be on any kind of time limit) back to life.

Even Makoto, who is absolutely set on Takeru dying, doesn't come across as a bad person: After all, as far as he (or anyone) knows, it's either Takeru dying or Kanon being an Eyecon forever. I'm glad, also, that we actually got Kanon's opinion, and that Makoto is portrayed as being in the wrong for ignoring it: There's an interesting parallel between Akari and Makoto here, where Akari acknowledges Takeru's opinion but disagrees with it, while Makoto goes 'No, we have to do this, you can't mean that.' Both of them have the best of intentions, but Akari's being a lot more reasonable about it than Makoto.

(Also, see, Drive? See how easy it is to have your female characters actually have opinions and agendas? Remember how you stopped giving Kiriko those after about fifteen episodes?)

Let's all keep in mind that this is not the face you make when you plan on
letting Saionji live for more than two more episodes.

It also looks like Saionji is reaching the end of his shelf life as a villain, as he puts his diabolical plan into motion, apparently drawing the ire of everybody. Takeru, Makoto, Aran and Jaberu (Jaberl? Javellu?) are all out to get Saionji now, and he's obviously not going to succeed in whatever his goal is, because we're only ten episodes into the show. Instead, he'll probably just get killed to death by Jaberu.

We're coming up onto the end of the first act now, and I'm excited to see how it all pans out.