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Thursday, 30 April 2015

Murphy Plays Valkyria Chronicles, Part 5: Vasel Bridge Blues.


Murphy Plays Valkyria Chronicles
Part 5: Vasel Bridge Blues.


I actually had to record this twice, because the combination of very talky cutscenes (nobody in this game says something in ten words if they can use a hundred, and everyone constantly repeats themselves) and surprisingly in-depth battles (which I do love playing) meant that the first time I recorded this part, it came out at about forty-two minutes. 

The cut down version, which has me skipping through text tutorial sections, is both shorter and has more of me actually commenting during battles, something I do have a tendency to forget to do. So that's good. It's nice when things are nice.

Broken Age: Act 2.


Broken Age: Act 2.



This review isn't going to have any images in it, because it's actually very difficult to acquire any pictures of this game's second act.

Oh, my god. It's finally here. I think after a certain point I just forgot that Broken Age's second act was even coming. It was a pipe dream, a fantasy, like an Adam Sandler film that doesn't make you throw up in your mouth at least a little bit, or an announcement for Dishonored 2.

But it is actually here. After a very long wait, the second part of Tim Schafer and Double Fine's latest point-and-click adventure can be downloaded from Steam.

Picking up from the end of Act 1, Act 2 sees Vella, a young maiden who had been due to be sacrificed to eldritch abomination Mog Chothra, now finds herself trapped within the aforementioned abomination, which is actually a spaceship. Meanwhile, Shay, former resident of said spaceship, is stranded outside of it.

Let's talk about the elephant in the room, then, shall we? This game's development cycle. I'm not going to lie, much as I like Tim Schafer, this game's entire development has been an omnishambles of Biblical proportions, demonstrating that, with all the goodwill in the world, Double Fine operates poorly outside of the traditional developer-publisher relationship. 

There's the fact that despite getting funding in excess of six times what they asked for, Double Fine ran out of money part way through, forcing them to not only split the game into multiple acts, but also to fund the development of the second act with money gained from selling the first. There should never be a situation where you exceed your budget that badly, it's inexcusable.

Then there's the fact that it came to light that Schafer hadn't even started writing the second act until long after the first act was released.

And then there's the fact that after being slated for a late 2014 release, Act 2 wouldn't show up on Steam's storefront until a third of the way through 2015.

I've seen it thrown around - not by Double Fine themselves, thankfully, but by their apologists - that gamers are entitled for expecting any different, that there should be an infinite supply of understanding and patience in this regard, but it's not entitled to expect a company to fulfill their promises, to wisely utilise their funding, or to have a game's script written in good time. It's especially not entitled when many of those gamers complaining were also people who had funded the game, who had given money to a kickstarter for the promise of a product. These are not just consumers, they're investors who want to see a tangible reward for their investment.

Which would all be - well, not fine, not fine at all, but slightly less not fine if the game had been of astounding quality. It's not.

Don't get me wrong, it's not terrible. The art style is gorgeous and unique, the voice acting is very strong, there is a lot of typical and very funny Schaferian humour scattered throughout. There's even some variety in gameplay, such as a section where Vella takes control of Mog Chothra's computer.

All of which is great, but the game is missing two key aspects: A significant focus on its core gameplay elements, and a satisfactory story.

We'll start with the story: It is - both very straightforward and very messy, both entirely predictable and bafflingly un-foreshadowed. 

The answers to all of the questions left hanging at the end of the first act are, by and large, exactly what you'd expect them to be, and said answers are delivered with nearly no dramatic impact: But they're not what you'd expect because there's been clues that will lead you to the right conclusion, they're like that because they're shameless cliches. Conversely, the answers to all the questions that absolutely nobody was asking because nobody had bothered to inform us that there were question marks hanging over these things, like 'Is Shay's mother actually a computer or is she in fact a real woman who Shay has been pretending is a computer, thus turning an interesting story about parenting and growing up into a condescending, sneering jibe at teenagers' are bizarre and come entirely out of the blue, delivered with no ceremony and no emotional impact. 

It feels like a very flat and lifeless story, and it only becomes more so as time goes on and the mysteries are, one by one, resolved. Worse, it feels less like a completed story and more like a first draft, brought to your screens with absolutely no editing or oversight whatsoever.

Worse still is that it feels like some excellent opportunities for character development were wasted. With each character, you have an abrupt change of circumstance, with Vella going from freedom with danger to imprisonment with safety, and Shay vice versa, but neither of them seem at all affected by this change.There's no character arc here, they are entirely static characters, and as a result it increasingly starts to feel like they don't have much personality. Even Shay, who brimmed with personality in the first act, finds himself utterly devoid of meaningful motivations, opinions, or character.

Which just leaves the adventure game puzzle gameplay to talk about, and to be frank, it's not good. It's not good at all. Puzzles are either laughably easy, solvable by just picking an item in your inventory and handing it over, or maybe walking to someone else, getting an item from them, and then handing it over; or they are impossibly hard, requiring thoughtless trial and error. The pride and joy of a good adventure game should be puzzles that are difficult and compel a player to think outside the box, but entirely doable, that follow a form of bizarro logic that is alien to a player, but can be followed. A good adventure game should elicit a feeling of satisfaction when you successfully solve a long puzzle, not total apathy.

The game does try to shove in a clumsy dual-character mechanic in the final stages of the game, where Shay and Vella must cooperate to achieve a goal - except they're not cooperating. They never communicate, they're just controlled by the same player, resulting in them performing random, meaningless actions that only form a coherent plan because you happen to be there, and it's situations like that for which the ridiculous term 'ludonarrative dissonance' was derived, because it renders their stories totally incoherent. 

So, that's Broken Age's second act. Summed up in four words: Not worth the wait. 

Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Kamen Rider Drive E27: What is Gou Shijima's Reason To Fight?


Kamen Rider Drive
Episode 27
What is Gou Shijima's Reason To Fight?



Maybe it's because I'm exhausted and struggling to focus, but this episode didn't make nearly as much of an impression as it probably should have, so this might be a slightly shorter review than usual.

In this episode, a Roimyude begins experimenting on members of newly built neighbourhoods, amplifying their negative emotions. Appealed to by the sister of a missing man and bitter over the group's acceptance of Chase, Gou investigates. Meanwhile, Chase enlists Kiriko's help in restoring his memories, and Shinnosuke is suspended from duty after attacking the police force's new specialist consultant - Brain.

A not insignificant part of this episode functions as a toy advertisement for the new RideBoosters, with both Gou and Chase using them in battle this week. Which is fine by me: The toyetic elements of Kamen Rider have never been incredibly subtle, but Toei executives have to put food on the table somehow, one supposes. 

They have families to feed with Bandai's money.

(It adds a little spice to the fight sequences, too, which are actually pretty fun in this episode, and don't feel too long. It helps that there's only one real fight sequence instead of the usual two - Brain vs Shinnosuke is too short and too dialogue heavy to really count - with a lot more time being focused on plot.)

There's a heavy focus on Gou's hatred of Chase, and his mounting bitterness at everyone around him, and I can't help but wonder if the show is setting him up to become a villain, at least temporarily. The show seems to be piling on reasons why he might go off the rails, so to speak, including bitterness over Shinnosuke getting all the upgrades, a feeling of being abandoned and unwanted, and mounting resentment over Chase. There's a scene in this episode that throws up all kinds of villain flags, where Gou attacks Chase while completely ignoring the Roimyude he actually came to defeat, the one who's actually causing harm, and that - doesn't say good things about either Gou's current state of mind or his remaining part of the heroes.

(Also a massive warning sign: Attempting to attack an untransformed Chase.)

I'm just going to come out and say it: If Gou does turn evil, it will be Shinnosuke, Kiriko, and Krim's fault. The show might never acknowledge that, but the fact that it took them this long for any of them to show an interest in why Gou is acting the way he does, and that Kiriko still doesn't seem to give two hoots about him (I'm not referring to her slapping him in this episode, I think that given that Gou was getting very physically aggressive with her, she was well within her rights - but I am talking about how she immediately goes and starts helping Chase out instead), is absolutely damning, and it feels very much like it puts the lie to the idea of our heroes being caring, attentive people.

I didn't photoshop this, by the way.

The answer to why Gou is so dead set on destroying every Roimyude is, apparently, to do with the fact that his father is Professor Banno, Krim's old friend and the creator of the Roimyudes. Judging by Gou's rather vague flashbacks, Banno is pure dark nasty evil rather than just having accidentally created murderous AIs, and Gou makes reference to 'running out of time'. The way I see it, there are three options here: Gou is turning into a Roimyude because of something Banno did to him, which would tie in with the idea of humans fusing with Roimyudes; Banno is turning into a Roimyude; or either Gou or Banno or both are dying.

This also raises the question of whether Kiriko knows, and whether she and Gou share a father, or actually have different fathers - or different biological parents entirely, as Gou might well be adopted. As the title helpfully reminds us, 'Banno' is not Kiriko or Gou's surname, after all, and Kiriko has never hinted that she's even remotely aware of any kind of connection to Banno.

Ah, well, at least Brain is happy.

It's certainly a plot twist I didn't expect, but that doesn't necessarily mean it's a good one. Foreshadowed better it might have been, but there has been nothing to suggest that Gou had ever met Professor Banno, let alone that they share any relation, and that seems like poor writing.

From the looks of it, we'll be getting more information next episode, including a flashback to what Gou was doing during the Global Freeze. I am looking forward to that, and of the two big plot twists that we've got lately - both father-related, I see what you're doing there - I think this one is the better of the two by a long shot.

But god, am I getting weary of Gou. I used to like him, but it feels like he's become more and more intolerable as time goes on.

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Editorial: Top 10 Most Useless RPG Party Members, Part 1: 10-6.


This week's Kamen Rider Drive is subbed and out, so that review will be up tomorrow for sure. Unfortunately, it wasn't subbed and out when I started working on today's post, so there's a bit of schedule swappery afoot.


Editorial: Top 10 Most Useless RPG Party Members
Part 1: 10-6.

It's an unfortunate fact of role-playing games that the demands of story and character often exceed the ability of gameplay to accommodate them. Players want a diverse range of characters that flesh out the world and the cultures within it, and developers want to stretch their writing muscles by penning the interactions of a ragtag group of conflicting personalities and viewpoints (for preference including at least one fluffy thing, robot, and child - seriously, think about it, KOTOR, Jade Empire, Persona 3, so on, so forth), which is difficult to do if you only have about three characters to work with.

Gameplay, however, demands that each of these characters play differently, and that almost never works out, inevitably resulting in characters that either have severe overlap with their colleagues, do the same thing as someone else but worse, or, worst of all, have some kind of ridiculously overly context specific talent set, such as possessing a range of abilities revolving around killing spiders and clowns.

We're counting down our top ten most useless RPG party characters in two parts, so here's part one, 10-6.


10. Solas, Dragon Age: Inquisition.



Nobody in Dragon Age is really useless, but with that positive and life-affirming statement in mind, let's face it, Solas is pretty useless. 

While Vivienne can function as both a long range attacker and a warrior, using her unique skillset to switch between two different paradigms; and Dorian is a master of status effects and damage dealing tactics; Solas is just kind of there, and the best thing that can be said about his unique skills is that he can drag enemies in close for other people to hit them with area-effect attacks, and battles are rarely spread out enough that you need to do that.

This is only exacerbated by mage being the most popular class for players, meaning that if you really want Solas' Fade Mage skills, you can just learn them yourself and avoid all the kerfuffle of dealing with a misanthropic bald elf.


9. Rikku, Final Fantasy X.



Okay, this isn't entirely fair. With the right materials, Rikku's overdrive, Mix, can become a gamebreaking skill, allowing your entire party to deal 9999 damage with every hit, turning skills like Tidus' multi-strike overdrives into instant boss destroying skills. That alone should secure Rikku a place not on this list, right?

Well, no, not really. I mean, unless you have a walkthrough, you may never learn how to make Rikku's more powerful items, and without that ability, it's difficult to see what point she serves - Tidus already fills the position of 'the fast one', and he does it while having more health, better defences, and a higher attack than Rikku. Rikku has the ability to steal, but you'll so rarely use that that it may as well not be there.

What makes this worse is that there are battles for which you have to have Rikku on your team - any underwater battle requires that you use Tidus, Wakka (who is also pretty useless, since Lulu is a much more effective ranged attacker), and Rikku, meaning that it's pretty much just Tidus tugging two dead weights along with him.


8. Teddie, Persona 4.



Teddie is actually considered to be nigh-on unbearable (do you - do you see what I, um, did ... there) as a party member by some, due to the excruciatingly irritating walking noise he has, but this isn't about that.

No, the real problem with Teddie is that by the point you get him, he's superfluous. While Teddie can learn higher level healing magic, so can early party member Yukiko; and while he can learn higher level ice spells, you already have Chie learning mid-level ice spells, and have reached the point in the game where most bosses don't have elemental weaknesses anyway.

Teddie's only real use comes when your facing an enemy that does so much damage that you need to proverbially stack the deck and flood your party with healers - but that point will likely never come, as almost as soon as you get him, Yukiko is learning spells that heal your entire party to full health.


7. Canderous Ordo, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. 



Canderous, one of the soldier class, arrives in your party on Taris, where you'll also be getting Carth, a soldier who specialises in ranged weapons, and Zaalbar, a hard-hitting Wookiee scout who can hit harder than Canderous in melee and is just as good with guns. Later on, you'll pick up HK-47, a party member who relegates Canderous to guarding the ship even more by being better with guns and possessing the wacky droid powers previously limited to your small tin bucket droid.

Worse still, while most of the party has some kind of character arc and/or a special connection with the planets you're going to, Canderous absolutely doesn't, and so just spends most of his time arguing about etymology with people and suggesting that you always pick the most evil option possible.

Bafflingly, he's one of a few returning characters for the second game in the series, and he isn't any more interesting there.


6. Goofy, Kingdom Hearts. 



What does Goofy even do? Donald has multi-target spells and can heal you if you're injured, but in Kingdom Hearts, Goofy seems limited to bashing people with his shield and hoping for the best, and not only is Sora much better at that, but I also don't think I've ever actually seen Goofy successfully destroy a Heartless. He seems to work best as a kind of happy diversion, drawing attacks onto himself to slightly lessen the heat on Sora.

Let's not forget either that in storyline terms, when Goofy destroys a Heartless it just disperses, effectively removing any chance you have of saving that poor, lost soul from an eternity of being a ravenous shadow monster.

Thanks, Goof.

Monday, 27 April 2015

Game of Thrones S5E3: High Sparrow.


Game of Thrones
Series 5, Episode 3
High Sparrow.



(This review contains spoilers for S5E3 throughout, but it also contains very minor spoilers for A Dance With Dragons. While I try not to talk about the books in these reviews, in this instance I felt there was interesting mileage. There will be a spoiler warning before the paragraph containing said spoilers, so by all means do avoid that section if you so wish.

Also, trigger warning for mentions of suicide.)


I'm writing this review on very little sleep, so I apologise in advance if it's a shade scatterbrained and/or totally incoherent. While I get some very strong yet dubiously effective coffee, here's last week's bingo for you to - I don't know, admire.



In this week's episode, Arya is set to sweeping floors at the House of Black and White, and draws the ire of another apprentice, a mysterious girl who wants to play the 'game of faces' with her. Tyrion, on his way to Meereen, has a series of unsettling chance encounters. In King's Landing, Cersei finds herself at a disadvantage as Margaery is wed to Tommen, and has to deal with the fallout of religious extremist faction 'the Sparrows' after they assault and humiliate a religious official. Meanwhile, in the North, Sansa arrives at Winterfell to be wed to Ramsay Bolton; Brienne and Pod track her; and Jon, now Lord-Commander of the Night's Watch, is forced to reject Stannis' offer and deal with dissent in the ranks.

It pleases me to say that the plot is fairly laser-focused in this episode - not as much as episodes like 'Blackwater', which remains enshrined in my mind as the best episode of Game of Thrones yet, but certainly moreso than the entirety of the last series. None of the viewpoints fall prey to holding pattern shenanigans: Even Brienne and Pod's storyline, certainly the least important and relevant of the episode, gives us some much appreciated backstory for Brienne. 

Probably the most vexing of the plotlines is Jon's, because at this point I feel like I'm just being taunted with a much more interesting storyline than the 'oooh, Jon's Lord-Commander now, oooh' storyline - that is, Jon setting himself up as a rival Warden of the North, bringing himself into conflict with the Boltons and, potentially, Littlefinger and Sansa. But as established before, I'm not a big fan of the Wall plotlines.

Speaking of, this new plot development of Sansa potentially wedding Ramsay does not bode well for Ramsay's continued good health. Sansa is, after all, now surrounded by Stark loyalists, in an unbreached stronghold, under the care of Littlefinger, whose attitude to murder within wedlock could be most charitably described as 'relaxed'. It would be very easy for Roose and Ramsay to meet with an 'accident' and both to perish - especially since Theon is also there, and it's an equal toss-up between Sansa being terrified, furious, or perhaps most dangerously both when she discovers what's happened to him.

Horses.


(Here's that A Dance With Dragons spoiler warning.)

Interestingly, though, this plot development also marks the sharpest divergence from the plot of the books that we've had so far. Without saying too much, Sansa and Ramsay do not ever interact in the books thus far, and Sansa's presence at Winterfell sends the plot spiraling off onto a path that I think will prove very interesting, and should have a knock-on effect on several other storylines. Better still, we should see that knock-on effect by the end of this series, if all goes well, so I'm looking forward.

(And it's safe to look again.)

Tyrion's storyline right now is mostly connecting tissue stuff, veering him away from Daenerys and onto a new storyline as Jorah's - captive, I suppose. Actually, just in general, Tyrion has been chronically underused this series, and while that's terrible, I don't expect it to last. In fact, my hope would be that we see a lot more of him next episode, but we'll see how that one pans out.

Good job not being conspicuous, guys. A+.

Cersei and Margaery's storyline, meanwhile, has surprisingly little ceremony for what is an important turning point. Margaery's wedding to Tommen is treated as a footnote, with the happy couple's, ah, bedding given a much greater focus, despite the fact that the marriage itself completely changes the power dynamics of King's Landing. A decent amount of focus is also given to bringing Cersei into conflict (of a sorts) with the Sparrows, including meeting their leader, the titular High Sparrow. It's pretty obvious that this is all going to backfire on Cersei, and that her attempts to court the Sparrows to increase her own personal power are going to result in the unpleasant realisation that their desire to ritually humiliate, shame, and do violence to anyone they don't like (and we've established already that Cersei is very definitely a candidate there) is greater than any desire for power they have.

Actually, her entire scene with the High Sparrow just screamed that fact, with him actively renouncing power while subtly praising the violence done to the High Septon constantly, so it's a wonder that Cersei didn't figure that one out already.

What a lovely wedding.

The best plotline this episode, though, is Arya's, and that's not surprising, since it receives more focus than I think any other storyline in the episode. While not a tremendous amount happens, we do get an important character moment for Arya, as she attempts to cast away her possessions, but finds herself unable to give up her sword, hiding it instead. More importantly, we get to see the workings of the House of Black and White - spartan, filled with statues of death gods from numerous cultures, and seemingly a place that worshippers come to commit suicide, so that's, er. That is a thing. Of course, we also know that the Faceless Men are shapeshifting assassins, and given the ominous silence after Arya asks what happens after they're done washing the body of those who've committed suicide, I'm going to guess the answer is 'we carve off their faces'. Just a hunch.

Anyway, here's the updated bingo:



Overall, a very strong episode in what has so far been an excellent return to form for the show. I'm looking forward to the next episode, where we will presumably be seeing more of the Faceless Men, Tyrion might be getting bundled onto a boat, and I don't know, maybe Sansa will stab someone.

Sunday, 26 April 2015

Murphy Talks About 2015's Upcoming Films (or some of them, at least).


Murphy Talks About 2015's Upcoming Films
(or some of them, at least).

I just got back from watching Age of Ultron, but rather than talk about it and potentially spoil people who may not have seen it due to scheduling conflicts, lack of time, lack of inclination, or happening to live somewhere that usually gets entertainment first and usually proceeds to gleefully spoil everybody else, I’m going to talk about the previews instead, because I have Views.
(The cinema was packed, by the way, which is pretty shocking for my local cinema, which usually has about six people in it at any given time.)

Pixels: Real question, why is Adam Sandler still around? I don’t mean that in the sense of ‘why does he still have a career’, I mean ‘why do we permit him to live amongst us as if he’s a person’, because I’ve never once in my life met someone who isn’t at least distantly disdainful of the man. It says something really quite terrible and transgressive that I've met people who think Piers Morgan is a fair and balanced newsman, but nobody who would engage Adam Sandler in a conversation without taking a bath afterwards.
Pixels is about the world being invaded by 1980s arcade games, and the trailer has everything you would expect from a film primarily trying to cash in on the ‘geeky baby boomer’ demographic: Extremely outdated humour, jokes that basically consist of saying a video game's name, 'har har women don't play video games har har' jokes that are sure to have GamerGaters furiously pruning their roosters in the pews, and casual racism.
Outstanding, good, great, well done you. I'll be sure to really quite resolutely ignore that film when it comes out, something that the majority of people have already got a head start on by virtue of not even knowing this film exists.

Spooks -The Greater Good-: I hadn't heard of this film either, which is a shame, because I quite liked Spooks, in the way that one might like a slightly nasally cousin who's also a dachshund. This film sees Kit Harington, aka Jon Snow, chasing Elyes Gabel, aka Rakharo, with the help of Lara Pulver, aka Elissa Forrester, because the UK has about twenty actors and they've all been in Game of Thrones or associated merchandise.
For those who don't know, Spooks (titled MI-5 in North America because old white Southerners have never met a word they didn't want to turn into a racial slur) was a long-running BBC series about MI5, the national counter-intelligence and security service, usually focusing on Sir Harry Pierce and his running series of proteges, all of whom die horribly, so let's just say Kit's chances of making it out of this film alive and with all his limbs is slim to none. While Spooks started off with an almost comedic tone, with early episodes trying to balance drama with wacky spy hijinks, it very rapidly veered into dark territory and proceeded to stay there, repeating the same 'there's a conspiracy in the British government' plotline over and over again, for nearly a decade.
In this film, Harry has gone on the run, and it's up to his newest protege to clear his name and catch a dangerous terrorist, and discover a conspiracy within the British government, because of course. Wouldn't want to break a winning formula there, would we now? 
I won't be watching this in cinemas, because I used to struggle to get through even an episode of Spooks, let alone an entire film.

Man Up: Yet another film I've heard nothing about, and the fact that all of these films have caught me completely off guard may be making you doubt my decision to go into entertainment journalism, Man Up is a romantic comedy about - something? The trailer really didn't make it clear, being a confusing grab-bag of cliches. There's a man played by Simon Pegg who - something? And a woman played by Lake Bell who has a very large family, and for some reason she doesn't want this date that she went on to go well because of reasons? And they meet on a blind date?
What am I meant to say about this film? It's there. People are talking. Presumably music swells dramatically at some point. The trailer didn't really tell me much, and if it did, I certainly don't remember what it was.
It's not that I don't like romantic comedies - I do. It's just that I like them as something I accidentally catch on television as a happy surprise, and thus don't have to spend money on ever.

Saturday, 25 April 2015

Batman vs Robin.


Batman vs Robin.



It's no small delight that just as I was agonising over what to do for today's post, I discovered that there's a new DC Animated film, and you know how much I love them. Well, I usually love them, bite-sized chunks of well-animated fluff that they are.

I don't really love this one.

Set in the same New 52 continuity as the past few DC films, Batman vs Robin focuses on the father-son relationship between Bruce and Damian Wayne, with Bruce feeling anxious over Damian's assassin-y nature, and Damian feeling stifled. Their issues come to a head when Batman ends up on the wrong side of the Court of Owls, a mysterious cabal of wealthy people who use their army of undead 'talons' to wipe out their opposition. Meanwhile, Damian is approached by big-t Talon, the Court's main (and only living) enforcer, who wants to recruit the boy to become his own apprentice.

Let's run down the reasons why I perhaps didn't enjoy this film as much as other DC animated flicks.

Wow, you two don't look happy.

Firstly, the New 52 missed a bloody trick by not having it be the 'Parliament of Owls'. I mean, c'mon guys, that's a no-brainer. C'mon. C'mon.

Secondly, the animation in this film actually isn't that good. Superficially, it's very much like the other New 52 films, but the resemblance is only superficial - clearly a lot less money and effort was thrown at the animation this time, as the colours look washed out; characters and locations often have a weirdly flat, undefined quality about them, as if half of their lines are missing; and everybody looks kind of weirdly misshapen - and worse, they look misshapen in a different way every scene. The animation improves drastically during big fight scenes, but even then, it's not a scratch on other DC Animated films, with no shortage of moments that look like they came straight from Justice League Unlimited.

Thirdly, the characterisation isn't that great either. Like all people of good sense, I attempt not to look directly at the New 52 so as to avoid tragic injury, but unless Batman's character is truly radically different in it (which would be a problem all its own), then he'd absolutely never talk about how a ten year old boy 'doesn't have a heart', imply that not having a loving family makes you inherently more prone to evil, demand a ten year old boy kill him, or any of the other horrific, abusive things he does in this film. Because while Damian is certainly irritating in this film, Batman is an out-and-out child abuser in it, and that's not Batman. Well, it's Batman a little - taking a kid out with you as a crimefighting vigilante is a pretty screwed up thing to do - but Batman's whole schtick is that he's always been a very archetypally maternal character, whose nurturing parental instinct is extremely strong.

Hey, nice masks.

Dick doesn't get off much better, as he taunts and mocks Damian, pants over the phone at Kory (c'mon, guys, Dick Grayson is smoother than that), and only once protests Batman's treatment of Damian. He's also apparently the film's go-to guy for injury, as he gets skewered through his arms and legs at one point, and later gets skewered through his shoulders, so I guess his acrobatic vigilante days are over.

Alfred is the best written character in the film, but even he doesn't fully escape the shroud of terrible writing, since I struggle to imagine any Alfred who wouldn't give Bruce a firm dressing down for - well, everything. Literally everything he does. In a well-written film, Alfred would have packed his bags and left halfway through, citing that he couldn't stay and watch what was going on. And if you can't write Alfred Pennyworth well, then by jove, who can you write well? 

Not Nightwing, that's for sure! Did I mention that? They didn't write Nightwing well.

I'm struggling to put my finger on anything that I did enjoy about this film, and I'm coming up short, but it did manage to hold my interest for seventy-five minutes, so at the very least, I can say with fair certainty that it wasn't boring. The pace is such that the film barely has a chance to become boring, trying as it is to pack a considerable amount of plot (and not nearly as much as it could have - the Court of Owls storyline is meaty enough that you could make three films out of it) into a very small space, so it never lets up, and viewers are violently thrown from one important plot-related scene to another. Which is fine, I can absolutely get behind that kind of breakneck pacing.

All in all, a very frustrating film. I'm generally a big advocate of DC's animated, direct-to-DVD offerings - I think they're far better than their cinematic blockbusters. This, um, this is almost worse than Man of Steel. Probably its only real saving grace is that it's short and well-paced. I don't recommend it. 


Friday, 24 April 2015

The Wonderful 101.


The Wonderful 101.
 

I was quite hyped up about this game, actually, from - well, literally the moment it was announced. I haven't talked about Super Sentai a lot on here (although I've talked more than my fair share about Kamen Rider), but I got into it at about the same time as I did Kamen Rider - and even though my interest has waned some over the last few years, I'm still very fond of it. Similarly, I like Hideki Kamiya games: I think that Devil May Cry and Bayonetta are massively fun, and Okami is one of my favourite games of all time.

So, when this game was spat out as the next rental game to be posted to me, I was pretty happy. And I spent quite a lot of time playing it almost as soon as it arrived, which is unusual for me, given that I like to prevaricate and delay over playing any of my games.

Set in Blossom City, The Wonderful 101 sees Wonder-Red, a new recruit in worldwide team of Sentai-esque superheroes Wonderful 100, take the lead in the battle against an alien invasion. While each member of the 100 is powerful on their own, their true power comes from combining themselves into energy constructs, such as Wonder-Red's Unite Fist. 
 
Wonder-Blue, the ... cool ... one?


That last is important, because you're not really playing as Wonder-Red in this game. You are, in fact, playing as the entire team, controlling them as one massive crowd - a crowd that can grow even larger (and will need to) as any civilians you encounter can be temporarily granted your wonder powers, affixing masks to their faces and having them join your gaggle of superheroes, in a process that's probably meant to be inspirational but just seems an awful lot like brainwashing.

With more people in your crowd, your Unite Morphs become bigger and better, and it's in the execution of these Unite Morphs that the game's origins as a Wii title become extremely apparent, as you utilise them by drawing shapes - with the R Pad, but I'd bet money that in the earliest design phases you used the Wiimote for it. Some Unite Morphs are necessary for puzzles - you can't turn giant gear switches without the Unite Fist, for example - but most are just for combat, and thus on nearly interchangeable. That's a good thing, because while you pick up a knack for it after a little while, drawing the Unite Morphs is surprisingly difficult. The Wii U is unresponsive, the rules for what constitutes a circle or a right-angle both oddly arbitrary and vexingly draconian, and if you're anything like me you'll end up mostly using the sword, as it just involves drawing a straight line.
 
 
The team. Well, some of them.



As far as the storyline goes, it's simple and joyously ridiculous. I admit to tuning out the lengthy, Space Sheriff style explanations of how the 100's power armour forms, and in fact, much of the exposition early on, but none of it is really important anyway, as the plot in the earlier parts of the game always boils down to variations on 'gah, aliens, beat them.' The story does gain a few more layers as time goes on, looking at Wonder-Red struggling with the burden of leading a massive team, and the aliens slowly revealing their secret motives for invading, but for the most part, it's all bright, cheery, colourful fun.

Bright, cheery, colourful, somewhat confusing fun, as the game never seems entirely certain if it's going for bright, perky, child-friendly humour or toilet and sex humour, and if I'm being honest, it only does one of those two well. Visual humour moments like Wonder-Blue tossing a rose up into the air mid-transformation sequence, then fumbling to catch it; or the team struggling to stay still during freezeframes work very well, as do moments like Wonder-Blue remarking that the aliens will "feel the sting of [his] blade. But not for very long. Because they'll be dead. From [his] blade." The humour aimed at adults - or teens, really, given the game's rating - doesn't, to the point where it is almost depressingly unfunny.

Our villains.


This is especially true since it comes out of nearly nowhere about thirty minutes in the game, breaking the tone completely - in fact, every single time the humour dips into that particular reservoir of comedy tropes, it feels like a gigantic break from tone, and it jarred me out of the game for several moments every time.

Overall, The Wonderful 101 is a fun game, and a worthy addition to Hideki Kamiya's portfolio, but it's not and will never be his best game. It's no Okami. It's no Bayonetta. It's not even a Devil May Cry 1. If you're a Super Sentai fan, I would definitely recommend checking it out. If you're not, then - well, if you have the cash and the time, and you like either Kamiya games or brightly coloured romps, maybe check it out anyway.

Thursday, 23 April 2015

Murphy Plays Valkyria Chronicles, Part 4: Squad Goals.


Murphy Plays Valkyria Chronicles, Part 4.



This was a fun one to do, but possibly a less fun one to watch. It answered one of my colleagues' questions about whether there were NPC female soldiers or if they'd all be named characters (the answer: both), and I really like the personality traits.

Not to mention, LGBT representation! Even if it's the result of randomised traits, it would have been entirely too easy for Sega to take the absurd, bigoted route and program the game to entirely exclude LGBT squad members -  and they didn't, which is how I ended up with a bisexual scout and at least one lesbian in Squad 7. Outstanding. 


Editorial: Top 5 Bioware Characters.


Editorial: Top 6 Bioware Characters.


Bioware has an impressive and diverse range of characters, the product of nearly a dozen highly story-driven RPGs, all of which have been met with at least some manner of success, whether it be commercial, critical, or both.

So, it makes sense that amongst those characters, there'd be a fair few gems, right? Characters that stick in your mind, that are engaging and fun and interesting to play with. A few terrible characters, too, but shhhh, that's for next week.


6. Sun Li, Jade Empire.



Spoiler alert: Sun Li, your old and wise dojo master in Jade Empire, is not a good guy. And actually, the foreshadowing for that comes pretty early, although you'd definitely be forgiven for missing it - the angry spirit you battle in the depths of the Spirit Cave is actually the murdered former dojo master, after all, driven mad and unable to clearly explain himself, and if you ask around the dojo and town, nobody is really sure how he came to be the dojo's master. That's not even getting started on how Li will only lift a finger to help people in danger when your life is at risk, or how everyone will remark that there's an almost imperceptible flaw in your fighting style (which Li later exploits).

Sun Li is a great character for me partly because I adore the treacherous mentor trope, and I have adored it ever since that one television miniseries about time travel that I've currently completely forgotten the name of; partly because of the fact that when you discover that Li is evil, his manner towards you doesn't change at all; and largely because after an entire game of having every villain follow the dark and chaotic Way of the Closed Fist, Li is very much a follower of the Way of the Open Palm, espousing order above all.


5. Varric, Dragon Age.



I'll be honest, I don't have a lot to say about Varric. He's fun, and that's the most important thing, but across two games he always comes off as a consummate equal to the protagonist, an honest voice amidst a sea of agendas and innuendoes, and that's very refreshing.

That's really it for Varric. Fun guy. I would have a drink with him - and so would everyone else, I think, whereas some people might be a bit more reluctant to take Sun Li down to their local pub, lest the establishment's entire staff and patronage end up embroiled in a twenty year evil scheme.


4. EDI, Mass Effect.



There was a bit of a battle between EDI and Garrus for this third spot, but EDI won out, by and large because I think that Bioware is often better at writing AIs than they are at actual fleshy people. What that says about Bioware, I don't know.

EDI is initially your ship's AI, a calm and friendly voice who absolutely doesn't want to kill everyone with a deadly neurotoxin. Over time, she ends up as a party member (one of my - less favoured plot turns), but more importantly, she also ends up developing more of a personality, developing a wicked and deadpan sense of humour, and a penchant for creative revenge (such as flooding the computer of someone who tried to hack her systems with porn).

EDI's development feels very natural (with the exception of her suddenly gaining a Conventionally Attractive Gynoid Body), and she ends up being one of Mass Effect's most memorable characters.


3. Mordin Solus, Mass Effect.



AKA: The reason why this is a list of six instead of five.

I had actually nearly forgotten about Mordin - it's been a while since I played any of the Mass Effect games, after all - but Mordin is definitely one of the most interesting characters of the lot. A fast-talking Salarian scientist whose character can best be summed up when he remarks "Lots of ways to help people. Sometimes heal patients. Sometimes execute dangerous people."

Mordin is a lot of fun, cheerfully giving Shepard advice about dalliances with different species, rambling at length about biochemistry, and occasionally singing Gilbert and Sullivan. He's also probably one of the most layered characters of the series, as his fast-talking all-about-efficiency slightly nervous scientist exterior hides a slightly more tortured scientist interior, as he is conflicted over his role in the creation of the galaxy's most infamous biological weapon.

Also, if you say that you didn't cry over "Had to be me. Someone else might have gotten it wrong," you are lying, and you have to stop lying. 


2. Vivienne, Dragon Age. 



A lot of people don't like Vivienne, and thus I do not like them, because Vivienne is amazing. She's a haughty, somewhat severe, regal Orlesian mage who is also a staunch supporter of the Circles, something that several other characters scoff at despite the fact that she's also a staunch supporter of sweeping reforms to that very same Circle system. 

Vivienne, naturally, is unaffected by said scoffery. In a game known for its cast of snarky, witty characters who oftentimes seem barely able to stand each other, Vivienne is the snarkiest and wittiest of them all, easily cutting down practically everyone who tries to insult her with a few well-placed remarks. Best (or saddest) of all to watch are the interactions between Blackwall and Vivienne - unlike, say, Solas or Dorian, Blackwall has little reason to dislike Vivienne, and yet he is constantly directing clumsy, spiteful remarks at her, only to be thoroughly humiliated every time.

What really puts Vivienne on this list, though, is not her wit. Rather, it's the fact that she's a deceptively warm person: While she's all jagged edges on the outside, she forms close and protective bonds with almost your entire party. Sweetest to watch are her interactions with burly qunari Iron Bull, who she becomes an almost motherly figure towards.


1. Legion, Mass Effect.



If you know me, then you knew the moment you saw the title of this editorial that this was coming. Hell, I even made an editorial months ago about how awesome Geth are.

Legion has everything I like about a character: A unique and interesting cultural viewpoint, a beguiling vulnerability hiding frightening competence, over a thousand different personalities working in tandem, and an enduring goodness to him. It. Them. Them, sorry.

It's impossible not to adore Legion, and I'll be honest, I did find myself wishing that they were a love interest. Legion is also one of the most apt demonstrations of something very odd but very true about Bioware: They do their best work when writing characters who aren't remotely human.

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Kamen Rider Drive E26: Where Will Chaser Proceed?


Kamen Rider Drive
Episode 26
Where Will Chaser Proceed?



Oh lord, praise the heavens, the Chaser plotline is finally over. I think. At the very least, it's actually gone in a new direction, instead of rehashing the same tired storylines over and over again, episode after episode, and for that I'm eternally grateful.

Here's a bingo:



In this week's episode, Roimyude 007 goes on the search for its human host, intending to fuse with him once again to create the Sword Roimyude. Meanwhile, Shinnosuke learns about the leader of the Roimyudes, 001, and how he may have had a role in Shinnosuke's father's murder; and Kiriko attempts to convince Chase to become a Kamen Rider once again.

I did like this episode, but I do have some things to gripe about nevertheless. Firstly, remember how I talked about how there was potential for Krim to react in an interesting way to learning that Chase was alive? Well, turns out he already found out off-screen, and he's completely fine with that, so let's just throw that potential plot thread away. Gou, meanwhile, is not, and at this point, his hatred of Chase is getting to be a bit one-note - not irrational, because Chase has tried, however ineptly, to murder people, but a bit same-y and a bit old. It looks like we're going to be learning more about why that is next episode, though.

(As other people have pointed out, it's weird that even though there's clearly something wrong with Gou, even though several characters have acknowledged as much, nobody has tried to sit him down and ask what it is, not even his own sister.)

Why can 001 appear in mirrors?

By far my biggest bugbear, though, is that after twenty-four episodes of barely being mentioned (he did get some meaningful name-dropping last week), suddenly Shinnosuke's father is relevant to the plot. Which is something you really need to set up early and then follow through on, instead of just dropping it in halfway through the series and expecting the audience to have any kind of emotional response.

That's - that's not great.

But this was a fun episode. Sword was a slightly less effective villain in this one, largely because the more sinister part of him, the human, was mostly out of action, but he's still an interesting concept and one of the better designed Roimyudes. Not to mention, I like 001, who was the real villain of this episode. The idea of a secret mastermind behind the scenes who is also an important figure in politics is not a new one to Kamen Rider or fiction in general, but one of the reason it keeps cropping up is because it works well, combing supernatural authority with mundane authority - and it looks like next episode we're going to see him wield said mundane authority to its fullest effect.

We'll also see more of this guy.

Nira, meanwhile, has essentially become comic relief, and that's fine. There was never any suggestion that he was going to be a long-term villain anyway, so I'm not bothered that he is essentially just an underling (possibly an unwitting one, probably not) for 001, and I'm not bothered that he's a mostly comical character - it grates on me less than, say, Brain being rendered comic relief.

The action scenes were good too - Shinnosuke's injury was rendered very disturbingly, especially with all the screaming and wincing, and Heart and Sword both came off as genuine threats. It was nice to see Kiriko use her magic boots again, even if she did also get rendered a damsel-in-distress yet again, which I really hate. Chaser's debut - which I believed also had an entirely new OST track accompanying it - was very dramatic, especially with the fake rain and his old form exploding to reveal his new one. It was all very nice. I approve.

Ouch.

All of which leaves me without much to say. This was not the best episode of Drive, nor was it anywhere near the worst - it sits comfortably in the middle as an episode which will only really be memorable for having Kamen Rider Chaser's debut. That's not great for an episode which, with a new rider and a new villain, should have been amazing, but I'll take it.

Anyway, here's the bingo for this week:



I think I'm going to leave off doing bingos for this show for the moment, at least until we reach the start of Act 4, which should be around episode thirty-four or thirty-five. In the meantime, next week we apparently see the police force turning on Shinnosuke, and his brand new obsession with finding his father's killer mounting as he confronts Brain about 001's identity; and we'll find out what's up with Gou.

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Persona 4.


This week's Kamen Rider Drive hasn't been subbed yet, which works out perfectly for me, since I've been meaning to get this review done for ages. Drive E26 will be reviewed tomorrow or later this week.


Persona 4.



It took me sixty-one hours to finish this game. Sixty-one hours. Over two and a half days. Much as it threw off my posting schedule, I am quite glad of that, because in a sea of six to twelve hour triple A games, you don't see all that many games that are that meaty any more. 

Set in the sleepy Japanese town of Inaba, Persona 4 sees the protagonist, a city boy sent to live with his uncle, form a team of teenaged investigators when a television announcer is found dead, an event shortly followed by the body of a fellow student being found in similar circumstances. In the course of investigating, the protagonist and his friends discover a mysterious and dangerous world that can only be accessed through Inaba's televisions, and start to unravel the mystery of the TV World, the murders, and the rumoured Midnight Channel.

By 'unravel the mystery', though, what I really mean is 'absolutely not unravel the mystery', because the investigation team really are almost comically inept at actually investigating anything - not only does most of the game pass without them making any headway on their case, but they so frequently jump to conclusions that there are no less than four bait-and-switch final bosses, each one accompanied by the team insisting that this time, this time, they have the true culprit. When the team does manage to induce a conclusion from the available evidence, it is invariably wrong.

High school gossip.

But that's fine, because the game isn't really about investigating murders, and investigation comprises almost none of the gameplay. Instead, it follows the same formula set up in Persona 3, in which you divide your time between engaging in visual-novel-esque high school drama to improve your social links (which brings various benefits in battle) and turn-based RPG gameplay in which you make your way through various dungeons in the TV World, usually with the intention of rescuing a potential murder victim.

The RPG stuff is, all told, nigh on identical to Persona's parent series Shin Megami Tensei, bar that your party is made of people instead of the denizens of Hell. Certain party members specialise in different elements of magic (with a few having a slightly greater focus on physical attacks), and monsters are usually weak to one element or another - hitting a monster with their weakness or scoring a critical hit knocks them down, allowing the character who scored the hit an extra move (and if every monster on the field is knocked down, then the party can execute an all-out attack where they basically just wail on the poor monsters). What this means is that most dungeon crawls come down to a balancing act of hitting monsters with their elemental weaknesses while trying to protect your own from being exploited, and conserve SP (which is not easy to renew, as SP-healing items aren't sold anywhere) for the long haul.

Bosses - which after the first few tend not to have elemental weaknesses - require slightly more complex strategies, usually involving knowing what Persona to use, what their attack pattern is, when to guard and how often to heal (again with that conserving SP problem). 

Okay, that's a cool looking Persona.

A lot of people trumpet the SMT style of gameplay as being very difficult and all about strategy - it's not, and in both SMT games and Persona 4 you can charge through the battles by just levelling up massively, but even if you, like me, are massively underleveled for a boss, you can still beat them through judicious use of exploiting their attack patterns.

The dungeons all have very fun design aesthetics, being based on things like a bathhouse, a tokusatsu villains' laboratory, and heaven, but since the dungeon layouts are mostly randomly generated (with the exception of boss floors and a few others), every dungeon feels functionally the same, just with different skins on, and that kind of saps the fun out of it a little.

But only a little: The RPG gameplay is still addictively fun, being simple enough to easily get into while possessing enough depth to not get boring, and the social gameplay - although it's a little more difficult to get into - is pretty fun as well, taking you through several storylines where you can assist your friends on the path of self-discovery. I only managed to complete about four of the optional social links, but they were all great fun.

Um.

In terms of storyline, it's a good story that a lot of care has clearly been put into - but gosh is it cutscene heavy. When you start the game, you get literally hours of cutscenes with very little gameplay between them, and there are other points in the game where you might be sitting and watching cutscenes for thirty minutes or more, with your only intervening the gameplay being to head back home and go to sleep. 

(There is also one extended spate of cutscenes which was very uncomfortable to watch. I'm looking at you, school trip.)

It helps that it's very easy to become invested in the characters, all of which feel like - well, anime stereotypes, but very well-fleshed-out anime stereotypes. They mystery plot, sadly, isn't up to snuff, as there's very little opportunity to figure out who the murderer is, or even form theories - while one of my colleagues immediately and correctly guessed who the murderer was (without actually seeing any of the game, I'll note), they did so by applying Father Knox's Decalogue (or some of it, anyway - I doubt #5 factored into their guess, and #2 certainly didn't) to the story, which is at least twenty percent cheating. But it's still fun.

Kamen Rider theme faintly plays.

That said, in a game that opens with telling you that you have a year to solve the case, I am astounded that it actually pans out that you have about nine months, as the game cheerfully skips forward three months towards the end, missing several important dates in the High School Anime Calendar. I'm informed the re-release corrects that error, allowing you to play through January, February and March.

All in all, Persona 4 is a very good game, and having spent several weeks devoting large chunks of my free time to it, I'm wholly uncertain what I'm going to do with myself now that it's done and dusted. Write a symphony, perhaps. Play Persona 3.