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Saturday, 30 May 2015

Editorial: Top 5 Personas.


Editorial: The Top 5 Personas.
(From the Persona series, not just in general or anything.)


The Personas - quasi-demonic monsters summoned by the protagonists as reflections of their true selves - all have pretty cool designs, combining bio-mechanical elements with religious or literary imagery and a touch of street fashion for a unique aesthetic.

So, it's only natural that we'd count down the five best, right? Right.


5. Arsene, Persona 5.



We don't know much about Arsene - just its name, a reference to gentleman thief Arsene Lupin from the books by Maurice Leblanc, its appearance, and that it belongs to a teenage phantom thief. That's enough to score it a spot on this list, though, as everything about it is unabashedly awesome in a very sinister way.

Look at that grin. Look at that hat and waistcoat. Like another Persona on this list, it looks like it's on its way to a charming garden party where it intends to viciously murder all of the attendees. 

Not to mention that it sets up Persona 5 for a 'literary criminals' naming theme, and that's just a lot more fun to play around with than mythology.


4. Thanatos, Persona 3.



Thanatos, based off the psychopomp (and location) of the same name from Greek mythology, is one of the most iconic Personas in the series, and it's not difficult to see why, given that he appears to be a humanoid dinosaur demon in a big coat, wielding a sword, surrounded by coffins with vaguely Christian-sculpture-esque effigies on them.

Thanatos makes his dramatic entrance early on in the game by tearing open the protagonist's main Persona, Orpheus, and emerging to rip apart a boss monster. It's certainly a striking entrance, and even had he never showed up again, would probably cement things as a fan favourite - as it is, he continues to play a crucial role in the plot, and later shows up again as Velvet Room resident and possible demigod Elizabeth's Persona of choice when beating down eldritch abominations. On the Moon.

Nice.


3. Amaterasu, Persona 4.



Amaterasu, the evolved form of innkeeper-come-fire-mage Yukiko's Persona Konohana-Sakuya, has an inspired design. Based on the Shinto sun goddess, she's a woman made out of sunlight, with metal wings linked together and attached to her arms (which are holding swords for extra cool factor) by big metal sun emblems.

You can't tell me that's not awesome.

As a heavy-hitting fire user and a powerful healer, Amaterasu is also one of the most useful Personas that your party will get, and her and Yukiko will likely always be in your battle party, since their versatility means that they can be adapted to almost any situation.


2. Tsukiyomi (sic), Persona 4 Arena Ultimax.



The Persona of the evil alternate personality of the also evil Sho Minazuki, an Inaba High School student who somehow managed to go entirely unnoticed in Persona 4 despite having bright red hair, a massive scar, and barely concealed murderous intent, Tsukiyomi's absurd and convoluted backstory in no way takes away from how much he deserves to be on this list.

Admittedly, he's mostly on this list for his design, which resembles Persona 4 protagonist's Izanagi if you filtered it through 'being a wizard' and then 'being a jester', and added in a big moon buried in his head and some cool black flames of dubious purpose. Based on the Japanese god of the moon and death, Tsukiyomi's moveset fittingly revolves around draining his opponent's health and also just plain wrecking stuff.

Incidentally, Sho's evil alternate self has apparently had this Persona since long before Persona 4, so thanks for helping out with that whole serial killer thing, Sho. Outstanding.


1. Magatsu-Izanagi, Persona 4. 



It's like Izanagi, the protagonist's coat-and-cravat wearing initial Persona, but more ... more magatsu, which surprisingly does not simply mean 'red', because it is definitely more that. Magatsu instead means 'calamity', with the Persona in question meant to be based on Izanagi just after fleeing the underworld, when he's still covered in its filth (or, as interpreted by Atlus, blood). 

The Persona of the mysterious Inaba killer, Magatsu-Izanagi holds the dubious honour of being the only villainous Persona you encounter in the game, and makes the most of it by being resistant to a spread of elements and physical attacks.

Like, I think, most people, I'm kind of a sucker for evil counterparts to heroic characters, weapons, or monsters, so Magatsu-Izanagi is right up my street - not to mention that he just looks cool, like he's ready to walk into a charming dinner party and murder everyone there. 

Also, he uses lightning attacks, and we all know that electricity is the coolest element.



Friday, 29 May 2015

Editorial: Four Places To Base Pokemon Regions On.


Editorial: Four Places To Base Pokemon Regions On.

Rumours are abound that a new Pokemon game is due to be announced - I should know, I've been abounding some of them - and while the evidence for that is flimsy (but we can hope), that's not going to stop us from speculating on some places in the real world that would make a good basis for regions.

After all, even if there isn't a new Pokemon game this year, there will be one eventually, so here are four places that I think would make excellent real-world counterparts to Pokemon regions.


The UK.

The UK is a small nation, but a culturally diverse one, with four countries with their own distinctive histories and seven distinctive cultural groups spread out among them, before you even get down to subdivisions within those cultural groups, or the UK's thriving immigrant community. All of which would make for interesting fare for a Pokemon game.

Add to that that you'd have a relatively diverse range of landscapes - from the mountainous Highlands to the flat and wet Fens - and that means both interesting environments to pass through and opportunities for a very wide span of new Pokemon.

Not to mention, the gym types practically choose themselves. Wales? Dragon-type or Rock-type. Scotland? Fairy-type in the Lowlands, Ground-type or Ice-type in the Highlands. England? Fire-type and Grass-type. Northern Ireland? Water-type. Simple.


Hong Kong.

Hong Kong is one of the largest and busiest cities in the world, a thriving metropolis with a fascinating history, so any game set in Hong Kong would, inevitably, be mostly city. It'd be an interesting new direction for the Pokemon series, as the focus would, at least for one game, shift from forging your way through the wilderness to reach a disparate set of towns, and more towards navigating a bustling urban landscape, with a more open world-y twist.

But Pokemon, while formulaic, has never been afraid of new things so much as it has been content with what it has, so while such a thing would never become the norm for the series, for a single game it might make an interesting experiment for Nintendo. It's not as if Pokemon will ever not be blisteringly successful, after all.


Ryukyu Islands.

Most of Japan has been included in the Pokemon games by now, but somehow not the Ryukyu Islands, the volcanic island chain that is home to Okinawa (the Sevii Islands, while similar, are clearly not meant to be the Ryukyu Islands). 

But there's a lot of interesting mileage in Okinawa and the Ryukyu Islands as a setting - the Ryukyuan people see themselves as Ryukyuan's first and Japanese second, and have their own distinct culture and religious practices; the islands are heavily occupied by an invasive and very often violent US military force; and the islands have a thriving tourist industry, resulting in a sometimes harmonious but often volatile cocktail of cultures.

Since it's a chain of island, travel by ferry could be a large part of this region, with the mid-late game ability of surf opening the world up. New Pokemon could be drawn from both the region's mythological iconography and from the region's wildlife.


Louisiana. 

Louisiana is certainly one of the more interesting parts of the US, and one of the culturally richest. French (or Kalosi, one supposes) elements meet Spanish, Native American and African cultural elements in Louisiana's urban landscapes, which would make for a wonderfully diverse and unique region for a Pokemon game.

Like the UK, Louisiana boasts a relatively wide array of landscapes, and like Ryukyu, the Surf HM would open up the game world somewhat. It also has a lot of distinctive wildlife and plantlife, which is ripe with opportunities for new Pokemon. An ibis pokemon, maybe. An orchid pokemon with several different evolutions.

It'd also be a lot more distinctive than Pokemon's last foray into America, which I would have struggled to tell you was even anywhere in the real world if somebody hadn't told me.

Thursday, 28 May 2015

Ori and the Blind Forest.


Ori and the Blind Forest.



(Contains spoilers.)

Hello, do you like ugly crying? Then gosh, do I have the game for you!

Ori and the Blind Forest, an indie platformer by Moon Studios, follows Ori, a young forest spirit whose life is thrown upside down when the forest it inhabits is hit by a destructive cataclysm, killing its adopted parent in the process. Approached by another forest being, Sein, Ori sets out to restore the elements of Water, Wind, and Warmth - a task that will bring it into conflict with the mischievous spider-like Gumo and giant, hostile owl Kuro, who caused the cataclysm.

The thing that everyone mentions first about this game - and I am no different - is that it's very pretty. Featuring hand-drawn artwork, the entire game has a painterly aesthetic, with sharp and bold colours used to define vastly different sections of the forest, giving each area a unique personality and charm. Characters are rendered simply (Sein most of all, being just a dot of light) but effectively, and the developers cleverly made Ori stand out by having it glow brightly, contrasting with whatever landscape happens to be around it.

Pretty.

The orchestral soundtrack is all excellent, reminding me oddly of Prince of Persia 2009's soundtrack - a lot of the same instruments, one supposes. While all of the soundtrack is stunning, the three or four variations on the main theme, such as Restoring the Light Facing the Dark and Sacrifice, take the prize home for being some of the best tracks on the OST, something helped by the fact that they tend to start playing during the more dramatic and impactful story beats.

The voice acting is also pretty good, although the characters only speak in Okami-esque noises.)

The gameplay has been described as 'Metroidvania-esque', but as I've never played Metroids or Castlevania, I honestly couldn't tell you. It's a 2D open world platformer, with a short main story and a lot of hidden secrets to find around the map. There's a combat system in the form of Ori firing flurries of blue flame to defeat enemies, and you can use various upgrade points to beef up your abilities in RPG-oid style. The game keeps gameplay fresh by frequently giving you new abilities that must be used to access new places, such as catapulting yourself off enemy projectiles or gliding with a leaf - each of the three dungeons comes with a new gameplay mechanic, and there are more than a couple littered between the dungeons as well, meaning that the gameplay is constantly evolving. 

It was actually really difficult picking pictures for this review.

It's not easy gameplay - in fact, 'frustratingly difficult' is the phrase I most often hear associated with it - but it does reward persistence, and the gameplay never becomes so difficult that it can't be completed with some strategic thinking. When people claim that old games were 'difficult but never unfair' they are without exception lying through their teeth, but Ori and the Blind Forest really is difficult without being unfair.

Mitigating that frustration too is that you can create save points on any stable ground, meaning that you can choose to drop your save point down right next to a puzzle that's giving you trouble, and avoid having to do a chunk of game you can do over and over again. The only exceptions are the escape sections, functionally the boss battles of the game, where you flee a temple as its element is explosively and dramatically restored. 

Gah, Kuro.

Which leaves us with the story to talk about. I mentioned earlier that there's a lot of ugly crying involved when playing Ori and the Blind Forest, and that's true: It's a very simple, straightforward story, but there's a lot of emotional weight and impact to it, from the start to the end, and the game plays with themes of childhood and parenthood often. It does cop out a little at one point, having Ori's adopted mother returned to life, but it plays the tragedy straight at other times - Gumo's people aren't ever coming back, and nor is Kuro or most of her children. While heavy-handed at times, the game does a good job of making you feel sympathetic for all of the characters involved, and the ending is bittersweet, both on a personal level and on the macro level of the forest likely never being the same again.

Nice.

All in all, a very good game, and one of the great gems to come out of the growing indie developer scene. I would highly recommend Ori and the Blind Forest to - well, anyone, but especially anyone who enjoys platformers, especially as it will almost certainly be on sale at some point during the Steam Summer Sale. No word of a sequel (not that it needs one) or any other game from Moon Studios, but I do hope that they keep making games. It would make sense for them to do so - capitalising on their success and suchlike.

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Telltale Games' Game of Thrones E4: Sons of Winter.


My apologies for any gaping errors in this review - I'm mixing up words even more than usual lately. Also, my keyboard is giving me trouble.


Telltale Games' Game of Thrones
Episode 4: Sons of Winter.



But where is the next episode of Tales from the Borderlands? It's an odd thing - Tales started a month before Game of Thrones, with both of them ostensibly being on an every-other-month schedule, and yet we've come to the point where Game of Thrones has its fourth episode out and Tales from the Borderlands hasn't even released its third. 

Anyhow, in this episode, the fourth of six, Gared, having just killed one of his family's murderers, must flee the Wall to escape execution and find the mysterious North Grove. Meanwhile, at Ironrath, Rodrik is approached by the Glenmores with an offer to kill Gryff Whitehill. In King's Landing, Talia snoops around a party in an attempt to gather information that might help her change her family's fortunes. Over in Essos, Asher and Beskha are given a task in the siege of Meereen, which might be endangered by Beskha's unpleasant history with the city.

Incidentally, has anyone ever noticed that we've never been told why ironwood is so valuable? We know that it burns blue, and that's pretty much it, although implications are abound that it's very hard and sturdy.

There's a lot to take in here.

This, I thought, was the best episode so far, but it was also probably the one that made it clearest that we weren't going to get a resolution to most of these plots by the end of the series. It just doesn't seem possible: In true Game of Thrones fashion, every episode ramps up the tension and complicates the tangle of plots, leading us less towards a definite resolution and more towards a cliffhanger ending that'll lead on to Telltale Games' Game of Thrones Season 2, and I'm not entirely sure how I feel about that.

The worst storyline in this episode is most definitely Gared's - it's truly amazing how the Wall can be so boring both in the television series and in these games, and going beyond the Wall absolutely did not help. A lot of this is that Gared is probably the least interesting playable character in the game, and he doesn't seem to really have any character flaws, unlike the other three playable characters. I found myself deeply, deeply bored during Gared's parts.

The best storyline is probably Talia's, despite it being easily the least meaty of the bunch. That's largely because the gameplay of her part is a lot more engaging: You get to meander around a delightful garden party, eavesdropping and talking to people and then using that information against others. It's Telltale, so you're being fairly firmly railroaded, but it does manage to feel somewhat like you're not, and that's at least a small bonus. It's nice also to see Talia starting to shape up into a bit of an arch-manipulator, and you can pick conversation choices that only enhance that. 

Just having a friendly meal.

As far as Rodrik and Asher's storylines go, both of them are fine. Good, even. For Rodrik, Telltale clearly wrote the storyline with the player having previously succeeded in convincing Elaena to marry Rodrik in mind, and then had to hastily adapt it for those players who didn't, but you get some nice pay-off in that you can maim or murder Gryff Whitehill, and a fairly dramatic moment involving Ramsay Bolton showing up in Ironrath. For Asher, you get Emilia Clarke putting in an excellent performance as Daenerys, and some good character development for Beskha, but for the most part, it feels like filler, and filler clumsily tangled up in the plot of the television show, at that. 

(All of the television tie ins remain absolutely and cringe-worthily clumsy, actually, with the characters transformed into caricatures of themselves. It's all very fanfiction, and while usually I would be okay with that, it is starting to grate more than a little.)

Weirdly, the graphics have kind of stockholmed me into liking them a little. I hold by what I said in the first episode - that they're really quite terrible, especially compared to Telltale's usual, more comic-booky design, but I've grown used to them by now, weirdly. The soundtrack is also excellent, and the voice acting remains strong, with the notable exception of Gared's voice actor, Daniel Kendrick, whose lines sound very much like they were phoned in by a confused GCSE student. Talia's voice-acting has taken a sharp turn for the better this episode, too, which is always nice.

N'aww, itshadragon.


Probably the biggest problem with this series of games, though, is that by now I'm used to Telltale's schtick, and I know that none of these choices will really have consequences - invariably, come the next episode, Telltale will find a way to railroad the players back onto a predetermined path, and that does kind of damage the feeling of being involved, somewhat.

Next episode, we seemingly get Daenerys' reneging on her deal with Asher; Rodrik has a confrontation with Ramsay and discovers who the traitor is; Talia is approached by Cersei; and Gared also does things probably. Or at least, that's how it seems from the trailer. I am looking forward to episode five, due to come out in late July,  but the key question in my mind right now is whether Tales from the Borderlands will manage to even have its third episode announced by then.


Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Kamen Rider Drive E31: Why Did The Precious Memories Disappear?


Kamen Rider Drive
Episode 31
Why Did The Precious Memories Disappear?



So, the title of the next Kamen Rider series has just come to light, and much to our chagrin it's not anything to do with fashion, despite a hoax earlier in the week suggesting it was. Instead, it's Kamen Rider Ghost, which could suggest any number of things: A horror theme (although Kiva wasn't that long ago), a ninja theme (very unlikely, given Ninniger), a spy theme (also not likely), or any one of a dozen other options. It's a fairly generic name.

(There's still hope, though: Maybe it's a fashionable ghost.) 

News of the next series has brightened my day, because gosh, I'm exhausted with Drive. Part of that may well be that it's the longest ongoing series of reviews I've ever done - and seems highly likely to remain that way in the future - but a lot of that is just because I think Drive might be the worst Kamen Rider series we've had since before W. 

There's also been some news about the film,depicting a Dark Drive fighting Type Tridoron and Mach; and some news about the series future showing all three riders working together against Brain, which makes me hopeful that we'll soon have the rapidly-getting-boring Evil Gou plot done and dusted. Oh god please let that be so.

Ngh.

Anyway, in this episode, Shinnosuke and the team help out a young man, Tooru, whose father is missing and, worse still, seems to have been entirely forgotten about by Tooru's family, friends and acquaintances. As the case brings Shinnosuke closer to 001, Krim grows more and more distant. 

I said earlier that, in my opinion, Drive is a pretty poor series, and while I stand by that, this episode actually isn't that bad. It's not great, but there's a lot to like about it. 

001, to start, is actually coming into his own as a genuinely creepy villain, with his memory-alteration powers portrayed as truly formidable in a fairly visceral way that they kind of haven't been before. 

Admittedly, the episode kind of shoots this in the foot a little by having Shinnosuke be immune to 001's powers, something which is never really explained bar some guff about a strong will. It would've been a lot more interesting if Shinnosuke emphatically wasn't immune to 001's powers, and the fact that he is kind of saps the fear from the whole situation. 

We also get to see 001's evolved form, an icy goblin type deal who can wield blizzards in battle, something that proves very effective against Shinnosuke. 001 isn't quite shown as the threat in combat that I would have liked him to be - as has always been the case with Heart, he suffers from the show always kind of struggling to write and choreograph truly uneven fight scenes - but he does at least have the honour of being the first monster on the show to defeat Type Formula (I initially wrote that as Type Tridoron, that would've been a mistake), so there is that.

And it looks cool, I guess?

Rather wearying is that this episode has yet another Gou vs Chase fight scene. I don't understand this: Did the writers just see how Gaim's heavy focus on rider battles was well-received, and go 'Let's have that, only with literally a tenth of the riders so that there's no variety at all,' ? It's a baffling choice, and between Gou vs Chase and Shinnosuke vs Chase, we've had this repetitiveness since almost the first episode. It's just so tired by now.

The fight scenes were short and (mostly) fun to watch, though, and we had quite a lot of untransformed action from Shinnosuke, which is nice. There was also a surprising amount of emotional weight both to Krim's hesitation, Shinnosuke's relentless pursuit of 001 (which involves him doing very little detective work, instead having evidence sent to him by a mysterious Mr. X - place your bets now on who that is. My personal bet is on it being 001 himself, Gou, or Brain, although given how eager Brain was to murder Shinnosuke, I think that last is a fairly outside chance), and Tooru's plight of, well, everyone he knows having forgotten his father.

I thought it was interesting that all the Roimyude executives were given emotions associated with them in that episode - Heart with joy, Medic with adoration, Brain with envy, and 001, surprisingly, with humiliation. That's not an emotion you particularly often see associated with villains, at least not in such clear terms.

Nice looking  villain scene, though.

All in all, a good but very far from amazing episode, which is a sentence I find I'm saying a lot about Drive. Enough so that other people have remarked upon it, at least. Next week, we seemingly get 001 achieving the 'Ultimate Evolution' and Shinnosuke dying, which almost certainly means that we're going to get Type Tridoron either next episode or the episode after, because I don't think anybody is labouring under the delusion that Drive is going to permanently kill off its main character thirty-two episodes in.

Ergh. Roughly seventeen more episodes to go, I guess.


Monday, 25 May 2015

Game of Thrones S5E7: The Gift.


Game of Thrones
S5E7: The Gift.



We're coming off the wake of Eurovision now, which a lot of people were claiming at the time was very Hunger Games-oid, which is absolutely not true. Eurovision is a lot more like Game of Thrones, with a large group of factions with a long shared history forming alliances and backstabbing people. Not that I'm thinking of any particular backstabbers, Australia. 

(I also thought from the title that this would be a wildling-focused episode, with the titular gift being the region of the same name just south of the Wall, but no, no, they kind of wasted that particular opportunity.)

In this episode, Jon heads North, leaving Sam to deal with Maester Aemon's death and a brewing mutiny in the Watch. At Winterfell, Sansa suffers under her new husband Ramsay, and attempts to convince Theon to help her. Stannis and his forces suffer in the snow, and Melisandre suggests the unthinkable. Meanwhile, down in King's Landing, Littlefinger and Olenna form another uneasy alliance, and Cersei's informal alliance with the High Sparrow takes a sharp turn. In Essos, Jorah and Tyrion are sold to the fighting pits, where a chance encounter sees them meet Daenerys, newly engaged to Meereen nobleman Hizdahr. In Dorne, Jaime meets with Myrcella and Bronn has a run-in with the Sand Snakes in prison.

Olenna's not happy.

Let me just start by saying how deeply I hate Sansa's storyline right now. I was excited for this divergence from the books, but for all of the writers' rather creepy trumpeting about how this was an important part of Sansa's character arc, it feels like she's been kicked back to series two, and all for the sake of HBO getting their rocks off to what remains one of the most awful, skeevy, and unnecessary scenes in the show. 

Sansa doesn't get much screentime in this episode, and although she has some good moments (taunting Ramsay about being illegitimate, and then that Tommen, who legitimised him, also isn't trueborn), the idea of her as Ramsay's prisoner (who, it's implied, he has sexually assaulted repeatedly) leaves the most foul taste in my mouth.

There are quite a lot of very short glimpses at other storylines this episode - Stannis gets a single scene, Sam gets very little screentime, Daenerys only has two scenes. That's not too bad, though: Stannis' scene establishes several important plot conflicts, while Sam's are suitably dramatic and involve the death of a character who has been part of the show since early in the first series. 

(Jaime and Bronn's storyline was so forgettable this episode that I actually wrote this entire review without remembering it, and had to go back and edit it when I saw a picture that reminded me.)

What actually happened in this scene? I barely remember it.

Daenerys has two scenes, one in service to her own plot and one to Jorah and Tyrion's, and by jove am I glad that they didn't pull the 'they nearly meet but then they don't' card, as they have done before sometimes. It seemed like they might for a second, but instead, having Jorah and Tyrion actually meet Daenerys punts their storyline ahead by a country mile, and also puts them in a position where they are unquestionably massively diverged from the books - which is just fine by me. 

The bulk of the story falls on the characters at King's Landing - Cersei, Olenna, and Littlefinger - and how they're coping with the High Sparrow. It's always nice to see Littlefinger and Olenna, allies in kingslaying, interact, and they have a great dynamic. Nicer still was seeing the payoff for this plot that I think we all predicted from the moment that Cersei met with the High Sparrow - the point where the absolutely terrible 'arm the fanatics and point them at your enemies' strategy would turn around and come back to bite her.

The fact that Cersei is surprised by this happening does prod at my suspension of disbelief a little, but never mind.

Yay Stannis.

It'll be interesting to see how Cersei and Tommen cope with this development. I'd be willing to bet that Littlefinger and Olenna will be sweeping in to manipulate the young king, and god knows that if they attempt to get anybody out of the Sparrow's clutches, it will be Margaery first, then Loras, and then literally never Cersei. Of course, the High Sparrow mentioned confessing and throwing oneself on the Mother's Mercy in this episode, so chances are high that that will become relevant - and soon, since we only have three episodes to go.

(God, it feels like the series has barely started and it's already close to finishing.)

For the final three episodes, my hopes are thus: I want to see Brienne rescue Sansa, or Sansa to otherwise improve her situation. I want Stannis to march on Winterfell and for us to get the Battle of Winterfell that frankly has been being set up since the very first episode. I want to see events reach some kind of head with Daenerys, and the same with Cersei. These, I think, are not unreasonable demands. Make it happen, HBO.

Sunday, 24 May 2015

Eurovision 2015.


Eurovision 2015.

Hello! I don't usually post on Sundays, as a lot of people reading may well know, but Eurovision only happens once a year, and apart from being a lot of fun (and fitting, just narrowly, into my remit), is also an important geo-political event, that fosters both international cooperation and gives the ordinary people - the peasantry, effectively - a chance to express their dissatisfaction with other countries.

So, I'm going to take this chance to quickly run down some important things in this year's Eurovision.


Sweden won!

Sweden won this year, for the sixth time, making them the second most successful country at Eurovision, only beaten by Ireland, whose rampant successes caused them to begin an over-a-decade long streak of self-sabotage.

It's a good song, sung by a very good-looking dude, and with some truly astounding staging - I mean, seriously astounding. As someone who studied live art and drama, which both often involve pinpoint choreography and equally often embarrassing mistakes, I was stunned by how perfectly choreographed that the singer was with the impressive and adorable light show behind him.

Add to that a really catchy song with some great if utterly nonsensical lyrics, and you have an entry that I was basically hoping would win from the moment I heard it. Good thing it did win too, because otherwise Russia wouldn't have won, and we will talk about that in a moment.

I highly recommend watching it. And then listening to it over and over again. As I have been. 




Russia didn't win! And judging panels.

For a while there, due to the most hated foe of all Eurovision watchers, the Logorithm, a computer program designed to order which countries give their votes when in order to obscure the winner for the longest amount of time, it seemed very likely that Russia would win - they actually came second with a decent margin of votes between them and Sweden.

Polina, the Russian act, seemed like an absolutely lovely person and a very talented singer, and very brave besides - I mean, you have to be brave to perform for Russia, where doing poorly might result in your abrupt vanishing - and she was clearly prepared for people to boo her (which they did, although the Eurovision broadcasters muted out the audience). I think she deserves all the credit in the world for her performance, and Russians should be very proud of her.

But I am overwhelmingly glad that Russia didn't win. As I mentioned earlier, Eurovision is a geo-political event as much as it is an entertainment one, and if Russia had won, it would have been seen as widespread support for Russia's frankly horrific regime, and potentially for its excursions into Ukraine. It would have been a political disaster.

And most of that is because of the judging panels, a recent addition meant to steer Eurovision away from bloc voting - and absolutely failed in that regard. Judging panels remove some of the power from people to express political dissatisfaction with competing countries, and that's a power that before judging panels was used to great effect, such as in 2003 where the UK's decision to enter the Iraq War resulted in us receiving zero points. 

That is the right of the people who watch Eurovision, and I dislike the idea of judging panels eroding that.


My personal favourite act!

Actually, my favourite act was Sweden. My personal favourite act other than Sweden!

There were a few candidates here. Much as I hate to admit it, my own country's entry was pretty catchy, and very Postmodern Jukebox. Slovenia's entry was very catchy as well. But I have to go with Georgia.

Georgia's act was very well-sung, and apparently performed by a Garo villain or possibly a Dark-type gym leader from Pokemon.




My least favourite act!

Armenia.

I won't subject you to that dross. Look it up yourself if you feel like wasting three minutes of your life.

Next.


Australia! 

Australia joined Eurovision this year, on a one-year-only type deal, and Australia actually did remarkably well! They didn't come anywhere near the top, but they did well and a few countries even gave them the much prized twelve points.

Unfortunately, Australia forgot where their loyalties lie, and did not give twelve points to us, the UK. Really, Australia? We're on your flag. Ohana means Commonwealth, Australia! Commonwealth means you stick together! 

Australia's success has led to some people floating the idea of Australia joining Eurovision permanently, and I would love that to happen. Let's get everyone in - Australia, Canada, South Korea (they'd love it), Japan. Not America, though. Like a gaggle of twelve year old girls who have decided that Sharon can't be part of their group, it is vitally important that we exclude America in all things. 

Saturday, 23 May 2015

Life is Strange, Episode 3: Chaos Theory.


Life is Strange
Episode 3: Chaos Theory.



There's a brewing problem with Life is Strange that's as serious as the tornado apparently making its way to Arcadia Bay, and that will probably take up a decent chunk of this review, so just - maybe wave your arms wildly if it seems like I'm talking about it too long, okay? It won't help, I'll have written this hours before you even have the chance to do that, but gosh, I will feel very sheepish.

Chaos Theory, the third episode of Life is Strange, sees time-manipulating protagonist Max and her best friend Chloe break into Blackwell Academy to search the principal's office; take a midnight swim; navigate the difficult social issues surrounding breakfast; notice the alarming numbers of animals dying in sets of three; and, for Max, use her powers in their biggest way yet.

The problem that I'm talking about is that with every episode that passes, Life is Strange throws more key elements that require a satisfactory conclusion into the mix, making the plot more complicated and unwieldy, instead of developing on the plot elements they already have: The first episode introduced us to a town with secrets, a missing girl, suddenly acquired time-manipulation powers, and an ominous tornado set to destroy Arcadia Bay in one week. So far so good. Episode two then adds to that, introducing the idea of a mental strain from Max's powers, as well as a mysterious deer who is unaffected by her time-reversal abilities. Okay, I'm not sure the deer is necessarily, but as you will, Dontnod. Episode three then throws into the mix an entirely new timeline, thus making any character development, any choices, or even a lot of plot developments thus far utterly pointless. Part of me wonders if that was intentional, if the weight of having to create different routes for different choices became too much for Dontnod and they felt they had to simply wipe it all away.

Woo, crime.

(Telltale gets around this by having none of your choices really matter at all, and so far one of the things Life is Strange had over the Telltale Games' games is that the choices did feel like they had genuine weight. I'll wait until episode four to see how this one pans out, but I don't have good feelings about it.)

As far as the episode goes - well, people have been saying it's the best one yet, and I kind of understand that. The episode provides a lot of character development for Chloe, which is always good (and basically confirms, short of her wearing a shirt reading 'I'm a super super gay' and riding a rainbow while accompanied by two goat-headed femme fatales, that she is catastrophically gay and was in love with Rachel, a reveal that surprised absolutely nobody), as well as providing some resolution to the David-Chloe subplot, having some nicely ominous moments, and hammering in just how sinister Mister Jefferson is - because seriously, if he's not a serial killer, I will eat my hat.

Clearly you can.

I personally don't think it's the best one yet. It felt kind of flabby to me, in that throughout nothing seems to really happen, bar the very end where a totally unforeshadowed jumping-into-the-past power massively overcomplicates the plot and introduces a multiple timelines schtick that nobody wanted - a multiple timelines schtick that involves a trope I'm ambivalent about but at least one person I know hates, the 'you saved someone's life so something else awful has happened in its place' - and I don't see how Dontnod can really fully make use of this new timeline without totally wiping away everything previous.

The dead animals also don't seem like as ominous an omen as we've had before. They make more sense than the eclipse, but Life is Strange hasn't yet managed to top the sheer dramatic force of the end of its first episode with the snowfall. 

It also felt light on the plot, and light on the decisions. You don't seemingly make any meaningful decisions, and the point where you arguably could make the most meaningful choice of the game so far, choosing whether or not to save Chloe's father and possibly irrevocably damage the timeline, the game decides to not give you a choice, instead railroading you into doing it, even though I think that given the choice, most players would go 'Well, I could do that, but I actually possess some common sense.' 

You might ask 'Are you trying to make me ship Max and Chloe with these pictures?'
And if you'd played this episode, you'd know how much of a foolish question that is,
you cad.

It was a good but not amazing third episode, and I look forward to the fourth episode with some trepidation, because without exaggeration, if they have pretty much wiped away all of your choices, then that will be a series-killer for me. 

When's Telltale releasing the next Tales of the Borderlands? It's soon, right?

Friday, 22 May 2015

Jupiter Ascending.


Jupiter Ascending.



Good clean space fun.

Excellent, that's that sorted out, on with the next review. 

Murphy douze points.

This is my end-of-review image that I put at the end of reviews.


Ugh, fine. Fine. 

Jupiter Ascending is the story of Jupiter, a young woman from an aggressively working-class immigrant family whose life is turned upside down when she discovers that she's the genetic reincarnation of an ancient queen, giving her the right to rule over all of space. As her past self's children set out to manipulate or kill her to preserve their claims, she comes under the protection of Caine, a genetically engineered space werewolf super-soldier who is pining after his lost wings.

Gosh, that is the most ridiculous thing I've written down all week, I love it. A+ job there, Jupiter Ascending. 

But I wasn't joking when I called the film 'good clean space fun', because that's essentially what it is: Fun. It's not deep, it doesn't have a deeper message, it's not really striving for any goal more lofty than a fourteen year old's Mary Sue fic (whether Jupiter or Caine is the Mary Sue in this scenario is entirely a matter of perspective, because they're both contending for that vaunted title), and I am absolutely fine with that.

After all, Jupiter Ascending does fun very well. It's gorgeous to look at, the story is sheer wish fulfillment without feeling obnoxious about it, the action scenes are great and there is never more than about six minutes between them, and the villains are marvelously hammy. I don't know what I enjoyed more, Eddie Redmayne's ABrupt MiDWOrd crIEs and suddenly changing between speaking softly and screaMING HIS LINES, or Douglas Booth and Tuppence Middleton's smirking and sneering. I could go either way, don't make me choose. 

Other cast members take their jobs a shade more seriously - Sean Bean giving an oddly naturalistic performance stands out like a sore thumb - but the general rule is that the entire cast has decided to go Full Ham on this one and gnaw on the scenery like it's their last meal.

(It's notable that one place where the film does aim high is in its costume and set design. Jupiter gets a positive fashion show's worth of elaborate dresses over the course of the film - very conspicuously, every villain's absolute first priority once she's in their clutches is to have her change into a new outfit - and they're all lovely. Equally nice to look at are the lavish space dining halls, space mansions, and in one case, improbably gigantic space cathedral. The design crew clearly put a lot of effort into their work, and I am filled with appreciation for that, because the film is a visual treat.

I'm not kidding about the dresses, though.


As conspicuous as Jupiter's parade of dresses is how all of Caine's outfits are seemingly made out of tissue paper, tearing if someone so much as breathes near him. I saw what you did there, Jupiter Ascending.)

I realise you might think I'm kidding about this dresses, so I wanted to take this
opportunity to remind you of how much I'm not kidding about how much all the villains
in this film make putting Jupiter in pretty clothes their first priority. 

But, you know, there is a place for that in cinema, especially when it's done well - and Jupiter Ascending is done well. It knows its goal, and it excels at reaching it, and the result is a film that I think that more or less everyone can enjoy and will probably be happily forgotten about in a - well, now, I think most people have already forgotten about it. Which is a shame, because as far as good clean space fun goes, Jupiter Ascending is better than Star Wars. 

Having said that, I'm not left with an awful lot to say. It aimed low, does what it wanted to do, and I appreciate both the unpretentiousness of that and the charmingly terrible film that resulted from it. In a film with higher aspirations, I could complain about any number of things, from every plot twist being sillier than the last to the fact that nobody thinks of taking Caine's hoverboots away from him when imprisoning him or throwing him out an airlock, but I feel like it would be disingenuous for me to level that kind of harshness at it - it would be like ordering a pizza and then complaining that it was bad for me.

I'm actually not sure how much clearer I can make this.

The biggest criticism I can level at it is that the film's ending, depicting Jupiter going back to her life on Earth, felt entirely wrong-headed. She's queen of the universe. Don't go back to your family on Earth, take your family to space where they will live a life of absolute luxury for the rest of their days. Honestly, this is a no-brainer, and I struggle to believe that anyone who's experienced poverty would actually willingly go back to it, especially when the alternative is a magical world of space joy. 

 Go see Jupiter Ascending, guys. It's the regret-filled junk food of films. Also, surprisingly short, so there is that. 


Thursday, 21 May 2015

Supernatural Series 10 (Second Half)


Supernatural 
Series 10 (Second Half).



Right, let's get this over with. Much like the Once Upon A Time review of last week, there's no sense holding off, may as well just get it done and dusted.

The latter half of Supernatural's tenth series sees Dean struggling with the Mark of Cain, while Sam enlists the help of hacker-turned-hunter Charlie and immortal witch Rowena to locate and translate the Book of the Damned, a tome of curses that may hold a spell that will destroy the Mark. In so doing, the Winchesters are brought into conflict with both Crowley and an ancient, sorcerous family, the Steins.

I'll be honest, if I find a series as exhausting to watch as Supernatural, that's usually a bad time. Even Once Upon A Time, which I think is terrible, I consider an adequate way to fill forty lazy minutes a week, rather than an energy-sapping well of boredom and weariness. Supernatural was never exactly a high quality show - it just wasn't - but time hasn't done it any favours in that regard either, as it limps on, seemingly purely on the justification that Jensen Ackles and Jared Padalecki have families to feed and need the work, and becomes increasingly more and more phoned in every week.

If I'm bringing up OUAT a lot, it's because these two series, made by different people and airing on different channels, somehow managed to come up with identical plot twists in their finales. An ancient, evil force that manifests as a swirling darkness, sealed long ago by the Big Good of the show and inside an undying human host whose actions are warped by it, despite the fact that this flies in the face of previous plot developments? Bloody check, I'd say. 

Cain, showing up for only an episode, is the closest thing to a compelling villain
the series has.

Even the execution is the same, with the Darkness - either one, they are literally both named that - making its appearance as an evil cloud and enveloping the protagonists within the last minutes of the episode.

Don't mistake me here, the charge I'm leveling at these two shows isn't plagiarism - I believe entirely that both shows came up with these twists entirely independently, probably while patting themselves on the back for how shocking and dramatic it all was - but it is a damning example of how cliche and unoriginal both series have become. 

In OUAT's case, their flagrant disregard for their own continuity could be somewhat excused in that the contradictory element was from way, way back in their first series - not so with Supernatural, whose entire 'oh no, there's no way to remove the Mark without consequences' schtick, introduced in episode eighteen of this series, contradicts episode twelve of this series. 

In that episode, Dean is de-aged into a fourteen year old boy while retaining all his memories of being an adult, and the Mark is removed in the process, only reappearing when he later chooses to return to being an adult. The show even gleefully presents the de-ageing process as an entirely valid and consequence-free way of freeing Dean from the Mark, no doubt to try to add pathos to his decision to return to being an adult to save his brother - but it's never mentioned again, and no reason is ever given why powerful witch Rowena wouldn't be able to reproduce the spell, which was after all cast by one of her own colleagues.

Rowena, meanwhile, is probably the funnest character in the series.

It's an oversight that makes all the drama seem false, and that's not exactly helped by how the writers seem unable to decide if their dramatic writing is going to be just lackadaisical, devoid of any kind of impact or effort, or just cheap, throwing out exhausted and misogynistic cliches like, for example, brutally killing off Charlie just to generate angst for the Winchesters, a cheap and uncomfortable fridging that served very little plot purpose, hinged on every character in the show acting like idiots, and tied in with Supernatural's long and sordid history of murdering all of their female characters.

(A lot of people had speculated that because Charlie wasn't romantically interested in the Winchesters and never would be, she'd be safe from dying. Apparently not so - the Supernatural writers just can't help killing off any women in sight.)

These two doughy white dudes, meanwhile, are entirely safe. 


Also not helping the writing is the fact that there's a small parade of recurring villains - Metatron, Rowena, the Steins, Cain - but nothing resembling a main villain for the series. None of those recurring villains ever seem like a compelling threat, and without a main villain, the series feels even more lifeless than it normally would.

So, all in all, another very lacklustre, very tired series, and one that's hammered in what I've been saying for a while: Supernatural needs to be allowed to die. It should have ended half a decade ago, but the CW and the showrunners just won't let it go. It's become a farce at this point, and an entirely unnecessary one, because let's be honest here, it may be popular, but it's far from irreplaceable. 

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

The Flash (2014) (Second Half)


The Flash (2014)
(Second Half).



I'm writing this review on very little sleep, so forgive me if I accidentally refer to someone by the name of a character from Flash Gordon or, I don't know, start talking about the 1990 The Flash series.

(Actually, I did realise it before, but the guy playing Henry Allen, Barry's father, played Barry himself way back in the 1990 series. I do love little nods like that, in spite of the fact that that show was - okay, look, there are good reasons why people call it the bad Flash show, okay.)

Picking up some days after Barry's confrontation with the Reverse-Flash midway through the series, the second half of The Flash follows the speedster as he tries to unravel the mystery of the Reverse-Flash and his mother's death, deal with rogues like the Weather Wizard and Pied Piper, and tries to get faster, all while having to deal with mentor and secret-time-traveller Harrison Wells manipulating events from behind the scenes.

If I'm being entirely straight with you guys, pretty much everything I said about the first half of the series holds true for the second half - The Flash isn't like Once Upon A Time or even Arrow, where each half of the series can be different enough to practically serve as a distinct entity.

Looking charmingly evil there, Wells.

And you know, that's good. I deeply enjoyed The Flash during its first half, and I wasn't hoping for a big change - more of the same is totally fine with me. Not to mention that the second half does have one new tool in its toolbox: Namely, that the audience now knows that Wells is the Reverse-Flash, and are now in a position of having to see when the rest of the cast figures it out. It's a mystery that they arguably take too long to solve, and yet without ever seeming to do much detective work in the way of it, bar Joe and Cisco's trip to Starling City (complete with cameos from several Arrow characters) to investigate Wells' mysterious car crash.

The writers seem to know this, as at one point they give the audience a big pay-off on both that mystery and the Barry-Iris romantic subplot, having Cisco and Caitlin discover Wells' treachery only for Wells to murder Cisco to death, while Barry and Iris confess their feelings elsewhere. It falls a bit flat on account of being immediately retconned out of existence by way of Barry running so fast he accidentally breaks time, with only Barry and Cisco remembering any of it, but they do at least manage to pull it back by having Cisco's repressed memories of his death be a catalyst for later plot twists.

(One way they don't manage to pull it back is that that whole arc feels like a terrible waste of Weather Wizard, who is a great villain excellently cast with Spartacus' Liam McIntyre.)

I accept that this is maybe not the best picture.

One thing that was very interesting about this second half was the finale, which having had its climactic blow-out battle the previous episode (two, actually: Barry and Joe vs Captain Cold, Weather Wizard, Rainbow Raider, Golden Glider, and Mist; and Barry, Firestorm and Ollie vs Wells, showing once and for all that Wells' super speed is apparently no match for a dude who can shoot arrows at things), instead focused very much on Barry being given a choice by Wells: Either preserve the life he currently has, or go back in time and save his mother (and in so doing allow Wells to escape, although it's never made clear why that part is necessary).

It's quite a lowkey, personal episode, in which Barry talks the choice over with various people, and it's refreshing to see that not only are a range of viewpoints represented, but that all the characters involved come off as having reactions that are not only in-character, but also as being appropriately invested in Barry's wellbeing: Stein cautions that changing the past carries massive risk and seems massively against it, but lends his support anyway, fitting his role as a good version of Wells; Cisco is ambivalent about the whole thing and refuses to involve himself on the basis of the risk to Barry's health; Iris urges Barry not to think about other people in this and just make the decision entirely for himself; while Barry's fathers, Joe and Henry, each have opposing viewpoints, with Joe thinking that Barry has to do it for his own happiness (even though it would erase their father-son relationship), while Henry urges him not to, as he sees the act of changing the timeline as one that would erase Barry, at least as he currently is.

The reactions feel very natural, and they all make a certain amount of pragmatic and emotional sense, and given Arrow's tendency to have massive, explosive finales, it made a nice change of pace.

This team-up was just a little confusing and abrupt, to be honest.

Not that the finale didn't have some action-y moments. The last five or ten minutes, featuring Barry battling Wells within the particle accelerator, and a black hole threatening to consume the world, are both heavy on the action and the CGI (seriously, it must have cost a fortune). There's a character demise there too, in the form of Eddie sacrificing himself to erase Wells from ever existing, and - okay, Eddie never made much of an impression on me, so I'm not that bothered, but I also doubt that either of them are dead, given that the last we saw of Eddie he was being sucked into the black hole.

The series ends on a cliffhanger, but it's a cliffhanger we know is going to turn out fine, as I would hasten to remind you that we've already seen the trailer for Legends of Tomorrow, where Barry, Ronnie and Stein are fine and nobody seems overly traumatised by the destruction of the planet or aught like that.

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Kamen Rider Drive E30: Who is Speaking with the Real Criminal?


Hey, guys, before the review just wanted to quickly plug Murphy Plays Valkyria Chronicles Part 8: Goat Simulator. It has goats. Well, people mention goats, at least.

Please go take a watch if you're interested, like and share if you enjoyed it, and so on.


Kamen Rider Drive
Episode 30: Who is Speaking with the Real Criminal?



After getting off to a promising start, I feel like this two-parter has kind of fizzled out into a less-than-great and surprisingly confusing finish. 

In this week's episode, the team learns from Chase that 001 can alter people's memories using threads of ice. With this new information, Shinnosuke and Kiriko set out to protect one of the witnesses to the robbery twelve years ago, a young woman whose memories have apparently been unaltered. Meanwhile, Chase locates Gou, intending to check to see if his memories have been altered by 001.

There's one part of that short synopsis I want to mention again, and that's 'the team learns from Chase'. Arguably, the driving force behind the previous episode was trying to figure out what the marks behind people's ears are, as that's set up as the key to solving the mystery. In this episode, Chase just tells them, quite early on, thus rendering any kind of investigating-the-mystery plot dead in the water and killing any tension that might have been built up from the dramatic irony of the audience knowing (roughly speaking) that 001 was inserting sharp objects into people's heads to brainwash them, and the characters not.

What a nice restaurant. Lovely aesthetic. 

One instance of this would be bad enough, but the episode actually does it twice, using chase as their Exposition Robo-Monkey both times. The second time is when Chase regains his memories, and a holographic projection from his eyes conveniently lets everybody know that Secretary Makage is 001. Again, there's no real effort on the part of the protagonists, and this doesn't feel like a pay-off from their struggles to find 001 - it comes entirely out of the blue, instead, stabbing the mystery plotline of this portion of the series in the jugular and then dancing away into the night.

It's baffling writing, and it's not the only bewildering writing choice in this episode. First, 001 can 'alter people's memories with threads of ice'? You maybe want to expand on precisely how that works, Chase?

My last great issue with this episode is that towards the end, Chase, who knows that Gou has had his memories altered, decides instead to lie to Kiriko and have her believe that Gou has gone to the villain's side of his own free will. 

I recognise the narrative that led us to this point - Chase is meant to be misinterpreting the situation, believing that because Shinnosuke said that people worry when something happens to their family, that it would be better for Kiriko to think that Gou is physically and mentally fine and just happens to be evil. I recognise it, but I think it's stupid. I think that someone needs to hang a gigantic neon sign in the Kamen Rider writer's room that says 'NO MISCOMMUNICATIONS ALLOWED', and that someone with a measure should be installed to rap the back of their hands if they try to write any plotline that involves unclear phrasing, misinterpretation, 'white lies', or anybody not asking for clarification.

Is 'let me die, let me die, let me die' an acceptable caption for an image? No?
Curses.

I remember 555. I know how bad this can get if you let the miscommunication plot device get out of control.

As far as everything else in the episode - there's not a lot to say, to be honest. We got another Gou vs Chase fight scene, and while it was gratifyingly short I am getting increasingly weary of those. It feels like we just went straight from Chase fighting Shinnosuke every episode to Chase fighting Gou every episode, and I just don't know what made the writers go 'You know what viewers love? Functionally the same fight scene just repeated every episode.' 

The reveal that Gou has had his memories altered isn't surprising, but I think it's a less interesting path to go down than either 'Gou has genuinely become a villain' or 'Gou is waiting for his chance to double-cross the Roimyudes'. A hero having been brainwashed and temporarily working for the villains is a very workaday plot, and there are more interesting ways of having a protagonist join Team Evil.

Other than that, I'm a bit at a loss. The comic relief scene with Nira was fine. The fight scenes were mostly fine - I quite liked the sequence of Shinnosuke rapidly switching between tires, we don't get enough of those - and didn't drag on for too long. We had a very atmospheric villain scene with Heart and Medic. 

Ugh.

I'm just a little disheartened, because there was a stretch of episodes a while back that made it seem like Drive was really hitting its stride, but it's becoming increasingly clear that there is no stride to hit. It is strideless.

Next week, it looks like Shinnosuke will be pursuing 001, and there's an ice-themed Roimyude in the preview who I'm guessing is 001's evolved form, given that we know he has some form of ice powers, but may well just be a Roimyude of the week.