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Saturday, 31 January 2015

Editorial: Why The Geth Are The Best Bioware Species.


Editorial: Why The Geth Are The Best Bioware Species.

Look, I really love the Geth, okay? All Geth. Every Geth. Especially Legion, as he is at least seventy percent more Geth than all the other Geth you meet in game. I am preparing a petition for a reboot in which all the characters are Geth. It'll be great. I have such good ideas.

But I do also think that they're the best species Bioware has ever made. Better than their elves, better than the turians, certainly better than the quarians. The qunari come in at a close second, for entirely different reasons, but the Geth will always be at the top for me. 

A large part of that is that a lot of thought has clearly been put into a species that was originally only intended as disposable gun fodder. From brief descriptions about how Geth share processing power, making them stronger in numbers, we were given a rather well thought out conception of a collective species: Not a hive mind, as they're quick to note, as a hive is composed of drones that obey a leader, but a true collective. 

Lookin' vaguely demonic there, Legion.

Each Geth is an individual Virtual Intelligence, and by gathering together into the same mobile platform or networking, multiple Geth together can perform as an Artificial Intelligence - to do so, however, requires that every decision, no matter how small, be decided by true consensus. In this way, the Geth are the truest form of a Consensus Democracy, since no decision can be undertaken by an individual, and since it is impossible (or believed to be impossible) for one Geth to deceive each other. 

That's an enormously interesting culture, I think, and one that's actually truly alien in a way that many cultures in fiction aren't. 

But the other reason I adore the Geth is because, of all the species in Mass Effect and Dragon Age, they are probably the closest to being truly and unremittingly good people. Make no mistake, in the historical war between the Geth and the quarians, the quarians are the bad guys: They created a robotic slave species and attempted to commit genocide when it seemed like they might become self-aware and rebel, and it's made explicit that the Geth's response was only to drive them out of the system - that they could have pursued and likely obliterated the quarians, but chose not to.

Completely the quarians' fault.

What's also made explicit is that the Geth fully intend for the quarians to return eventually, and we're told that they have been taking care of the planet until a peace can be brokered. In fact, when they end up back at war again in Mass Effect 3, the quarians are the aggressors, and it's the quarians who must be coaxed into peace - the Geth are entirely willing to make peace and require no convincing at all, and in the aftermath of a peace settlement immediately begin working on ways for the quarians to adapt to their homeworld again after living in space for so long.

The Geth are compassionate and understanding in a way that's vaguely reminds me of Data from Star Trek: Data, we are told often, is emotionless, but we are also shown that he is utterly good in a way that none of the human characters can really make claim to, even in a show as light and optimistic as Star Trek. Data doesn't ever act in a way that he thinks will harm people unless he absolutely has to, and he doesn't ever truly understand why anyone would. Data always acts in a way that he thinks will increase happiness and reduce suffering, both on an individual level and on a larger scale. Data doesn't hate - or even dislike - people, regardless of what they do: While he can recognise when a behaviour or viewpoint is wrong, and will take any steps necessary to stop unethical, immoral, or harmful actions, and he can recognise when a person is objectively likely to perform such actions, it's entirely impersonal for him. 

The Geth are an entire species of that. Even when a section of their own species completely abandons their ethics, the Geth's response is less anger and more bemused neutrality - and even when they discover that said faction has been essentially brainwashing Geth programs, their reaction, while shocked, never actually reaches into personal dislike.

I wouldn't recommend that kind of attitude for humans, but for alien robots, it works quite well.

All of which is why Legion is possibly my favourite Mass Effect character. They're adorable, polite, and completely and unquestioningly good. They also seem to have something vaguely like a crush on Shepard, which is why I'm a little sad that they weren't a romance option.

"And then Legion was downloaded into a body that looked
like Zayn Malik," Murphy wrote. "Shepard was happy."
His magnum opus was complete.
He pressed the FF.net 'submit' button.


Missed opportunity.

Friday, 30 January 2015

Justice League: Throne of Atlantis.


Justice League: Throne of Atlantis.



Wow, good thing this came out today, I was stumped on what to do. 

As I've mentioned before on this blog, I do deeply enjoy the DC Animated films. They tend to be very well animated, they're short enough that I don't lose interest, they have solid plots, and they have good voice casts. This is the second in an ongoing series of Justice League films about their incarnations from the accursed New 52 continuity, following on from Justice League: War.

While War was an ensemble piece, Throne of Atlantis is very definitely Aquaman's story, following him from being a drunk lighthouse owner mourning the death of his father and getting into bar brawls over lobsters, to becoming embroiled in a brewing war between Atlantis and the Surface World, and the machinations of his evil half-brother Orm (or the Ocean Master, as he's usually called in comics continuity) and Orm's right-hand man, Black Manta. Meanwhile, the Justice League, still a very new team, is investigating the destruction of a submarine near the Marianas Trench.

What a pretty Aquaman.

In that regard, it works a lot better than War did. War's main issue was that as an ensemble origin story, it felt rushed and was unable to provide appropriate focus for each of its individual characters. I won't say that Aquaman's story doesn't feel a little bit rushed, as the entire film is only slightly over an hour long, but it feels a lot better balanced than its predecessor, and Aquaman, played by Matt Lanter, makes for a far more charismatic character than some of the rest of the Justice League in these films. Superman and Wonder-Woman, I'm mostly looking at you here.

Speaking of Superman and Wonder-Woman, they have a romance in this film, and it's both totally unbelievable (as it materialises from nowhere) and a little bit creepy (as Clark always seems to be the one pushing for it, with Diana never seeming to reciprocate so much as just go with it - not the best impression for your film's romance to make). I realise it's a feature of the New 52 continuity, and I hate it there as well, I really do. 

Stop that.

It's odd, because this film does execute other romance subplots, and it does so well. Mira and Aquaman have a romance subplot that feels a bit forced, but not jarringly so; and Cyborg is given a romance with a scientist which also doesn't feel forced, even though it has probably about twenty seconds spent on it. 

The preponderance of romance subplots in this film is a little odd, actually, and one supposes that it ties in to the attempt to be 'adult' that leads to things like a pun about how well-hung Aquaman is being slipped in (good to know, but not really necessary) and Black Manta dramatically exclaiming mild swear words mid-monologue. It doesn't really work - I'm off the fairly firm belief that major comic book properties should be accessible to all ages, and attempts to make them 'adult' always carry a slight stench of desperation to them. It didn't jar me out of the film, but I noticed, and I was a bit irritated. 

The attempt at an adult-ish tone is also odd because this is a lighter and fluffier version of the same storyline from the comics, which involved a lot more politicking and a somewhat more anti-heroic Aquaman, and which was also completely and unremittingly awful, so kudos to DC for changing that here. 

Don in distress Aquaman.

As was the case with War, the animation is all rather gorgeous, although I did find myself wearying of the permanent soft filter at times, not least because they seemed to add an extra soft filter, making everything look like I'm having a sudden attack of a hypoglycemia. I was getting very annoyed with it by the end, to say the least. I'm not sure why anyone would feel the need to layer their gorgeous, colourful animation with a filter that washes it out and blurs the edges - I can only assume there's some manner of self-hate at play here. 

The voice acting was also very strong, mostly. I didn't think much of Superman's voice actor, and Wonder-Woman's voice actor is working with some terrible scripting, but everybody else is fine. Sam Witwer as Orm and Harry Lennix as Black Manta pretty much steal the show, with Witwer hamming things up and gnawing his way through whatever scenery happens to be to hand, and Lennix doing the same Harry Lennix thing he does in everything, which is very effective and which I like very much.

The film ends on a post-credits scene introducing Lex Luthor, as played by Steve Blum, who apparently has some kind of diabolical plan, so there is obviously going to be a sequel. What it could be, I don't know, but I'm looking forward to it. Mostly. I mean, it'll kill an hour, you can't ask fairer than that, can you.

Thursday, 29 January 2015

Editorial: Top 5 Silliest Final Fantasy Outfits (Part 1 - The Men).


Editorial: Top 5 Silliest Final Fantasy Outfits
Part 1 - The Men.

Final Fantasy, frankly, has more than its fair share of silly outfits, and if we're being brutally honest, most of them can be traced back to one source - Tetsuya Nomura and the emulation thereof. I was inspired to do this two part series (yes, there will be a Part 2 - The Women. Final Fantasy has such a massive gender imbalance when it comes to ridiculous outfits that if I didn't divide this up by gender, it would just be a list of five female characters) after seeing screenshots from Mevius Final Fantasy.

You can take a look at those at Flashfly here, and they're just gloriously ridiculous. Truly, Final Fantasy, you have outdone yourself.

Also, for this list I haven't included characters whose designs, while ridiculous, are clearly in some fashion meant to be. Kuja's design is just plain silly, but it entirely fits his character as a flamboyant performer. 

Anyway, let's move on to looking at the most ridiculous menswear clothes in the Final Fantasy series.


5. Squall Leonhart, Final Fantasy VIII.



This one is actually a bit of a fan favourite, albeit mostly amongst fourteen year old boys who would be more at home in the early nineties. 

To be fair, you wouldn't think that a leather jacket, t-shirt, and leather trousers would be that bad, but the overall effect gives it what probably should be termed the Matrix Effect: The phenomenon of an outfit being designed with 'awesome badass' in mind that instead just comes off as silly and dated, because the idea of awesome badass being used was apparently plucked from the mind of a teenager from twenty years ago.

(I should note, at this point, that Final Fantasy VIII was actually released in the nineties, in all fairness to it.)

One of my learned colleagues does actually have some better costume designs for Squall over here.


4. Vincent Valentine, Final Fantasy VII.



Vincent has much the same problem as Squall: He was clearly designed to look awesome, to act as a power fantasy for players, but the idea of awesome at play here is a very immature and very dated one. Vincent, in this case, looks like the protagonist in an overwrought horror-themed shounen anime, and I'm not entirely okay with that.

It ties in to a general problem with both VII and VIII that they are often trying far, far too hard - whether it be with character designs or not - and it often shows to their detriment. While Nomura calms down a little later (some of the designs he produces, like the ubiquitous black coat that nearly everyone wears at some point in Kingdom Hearts, are exercises in subtlety), Vincent is the prime example of his try-hard tendencies, and the result is something that looked silly at the time and has not aged well.


3. Ashley Riot, Vagrant Story.



I didn't initially see what was so bad about Ashley's design. I mean, he's wearing a simple shirt and some shorts. It's a bit uninspired, but it's not terrible, right? Certainly, it's got potential, and - what do you mean, I need to see it from behind? I don't understand what you're getting a - ...



Oh.

Oh, I, um. Arseless chaps. Gosh. Really. That's ... gosh. Is that uniform, or does he just like ... ? No, no, it's fine, it's um. It's fine. He does have an alternate costume apparently, so maybe that's - ...


And we're right back to try-hard, okay. Let's move on.


2. Nooj, Final Fantasy X-2.



Heh. Nooj. His name sounds funny. Nooj. 

Anyway. I'm not sure what to make of really anything about Nooj's design. I mean, what would I even say, guys. Where would I start. The onesie? The random armour on one leg and one arm? The fur? The belts?

Every joke ever made about Tetsuya Nomura's designs is made manifest in Nooj. He is the ultimate Nomura character. He is their king. 


1. Reks, Final Fantasy XII.



Reks doesn't show up for very long, and in all honesty, his design might not be worse than Nooj, if taken entirely on its own merits, divorced from context. No, what makes this design the worst of all is that Reks is meant to be a soldier on active duty, and this is his uniform. 

His uniform, which leaves him unarmoured on his stomach, one arm, and thighs. I shudder to think how many of Dalmasca's soldiers have died of complications after taking an arrow to the gut, the place where you are probably most likely to get an infection if you're wounded. 

No wonder they lost their war. 

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Silent Hill: Shattered Memories.


Silent Hill: Shattered Memories.



I'm actually quite shocked that I haven't already reviewed this. I thought I had, guys. I really thought I had. I had to check several times to make sure I hadn't, but it genuinely does look like I hadn't. I realise that this is alarming for all of us. Let's continue.

Shattered Memories was another game rented out more on a whim than anything else. I'd heard that it was a good game, and though I'd never played the original Silent Hill that it's based on, I was intrigued by this remake. Naturally, I immediately gave it to a friend of stronger constitution to play in my stead.

A remake, as mentioned before, of the very first Silent Hill game (although it's fair to say that it's a very loose remake indeed), Shattered Memories puts you both in the shoes of a young woman receiving therapy from kindly therapist Doctor Kaufmann, and in the shoes of Harry Mason, a man who wakes up in the snowed over town of Silent Hill to find his daughter missing, thus beginning a desperate search for her. Not all is well, though, as Harry is often thrown into a mysterious icy otherworld, in which he is relentlessly pursued by monsters.

Fleshy monsters who like to hug.

It's a very interesting game, I'll say that. Unlike other Silent Hill titles, there is absolutely no fighting in this game: You can't fend off the monsters, you can only flee and hide, and that sense of powerlessness should work well. It does, at first. But as the labyrinths you have to navigate to get away from the monsters become more complicated, and sometimes start throwing puzzles at you, it just becomes frustrating, and the sense of powerlessness begins to grate instead of scare. 

(It was during the later chase sequences that I had to volunteer to do them instead while my friend was on walkthrough duty, as I feared that the sound of my friend yelling, with genuine distress, things like 'No!' and 'Get off me!' would surely draw the police to our door, and increasingly 'No, it - it was just a computer game,' sounded like an excuse that nobody would ever believe.

It wasn't just her either. It really wasn't long into the chase sections when I started doing almost exactly the same thing.)

In a way, the non-chase sections where you're in no danger at all are a lot better. They're creepy, atmospheric, and the exploration-investigation angle is well established and often very innovative, involving things like taking pictures with your smartphone and using the wiimote as a phone to listen to calls.

It's in these sections, too, that you start seeing the effect of the therapy sections. You see, all the responses you give in the therapy-with-Doctor-Kaufmann sections alter the gameplay with Harry Mason in some fashion, whether that be changing the colour of a house to outright changing the personality of the characters he meets, and even some of the areas that he can access. 

Doesn't this fellow look trustworthy?

The story is, rather uncharacteristically for Silent Hill games, thinly sketched out. It all fits together into one of several reveals at the end, but for the most part, it's a very simple plotline about a dude sprinting and photographing his way through a snowed-in nightmare town to find his daughter. We've all been there. There aren't really any twists or turns to the plot except near the very end, and the very limited cast involved are mostly there as props for the various creepy, bizarre, usually allegorical situations that Harry finds himself in. 

The game does end on an interesting question, though, that being whether any of the stuff you've been doing as Harry has actually happened (if it has, then it would be as some kind of psychic manifestation), or whether it's just taking place in someone's imagination. The game provides evidence for either option, but never makes it clear either way.

The voice acting is good, the OST is nice to listen to and sufficiently creepy, and while the graphics are rapidly starting to look dated, they certainly aren't bad. It holds up quite well on a mechanical level. 

This may or may not be your fault, in game.

So, I would recommend this game. What I'd really like to see, though, is the Shattered Memories treatment applied to Silent Hill 2. Since that was the game that began the whole trend of survival-horror-that's-really-about-psychology which directly led to this game, I think something very interesting could be created from combining the two. Shattered Memories rather vaguely hints at it, having one of the joke endings show James, the protagonist of that game, as a rather nervous patient of Kaufmann's, but since there's been neither hide nor hair of such a thing several years on, I think this may be a pipe dream.

Still, one of the stronger entries in the franchise's more recent offerings. Check it out.

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

X-Men: Days of Future Past.


X-Men: Days of Future Past. 



I actually still remember when the X-Men films were considered new and innovative, and were the big new thing on the cinema scene-thing. That was during the first two films - the lustre quickly wore off round about The Last Stand, which was unremittingly awful, and was thoroughly gone by the time shameless cash grab X-Men Origins: Wolverine came out. Does everyone remember that? Does everyone remember how awful that was? It was awful. 

Not as bad as The Wolverine, but still pretty bad.

The X-Men franchise will probably never regain the prestige it had when those first films came out, and a growing fan desire for Fox to give Marvel back the rights to film adaptations of X-Men related properties isn't helping that, but it has started to win back some kind of regard with the last two films, X-Men: First Class and X-Men: Days of Future Past. Taking audiences back to an entirely re-imagined version of the X-Men backstory, First Class saw a young Charles Xavier and Magneto gathering the first iteration of the X-Men

Which is what makes Days of Future Past a little strange, as in it it's made entirely clear that while some of the films are still canon (everything through The Last Stand, which directly contradicts this film and First Class), some definitely aren't (X-Men Origins: Wolverine is totally irreconcilable with this film), and some occupy a weird limbo space where they might be or might not be (The Wolverine, while it led directly into this film, is never referenced, not even when Charles is viewing Wolverine's memories).

Neat looking robot, though.

It's a really odd, haphazard approach to take to continuity, and not helped by the fact that Fox's regard for comics canon and continuity is noticeably lacking: Quicksilver is an active, modern day superhero? Nope, he's in the past. Emma Frost led the X-Men at one point? No, she's died offscreen. Havok is Cyclops' brother? Ha, watch as we never reference that ever. Kitty Pryde was the one who went back in time in the comics, you say? Nope, it's Wolverine now. 

That last is particularly odd, as having seen the film I'm still not sure what Wolverine actually does. In theory, he's the catalyst behind all the events in the past unfolding differently. In practice, apart from the occasional inspirational speech, he's possibly the most inactive character, and it's telling that neither of the final confrontations actually involve him. For the one in the future, he's asleep, and for the one in the past, he is very quickly thrown into the river, where he can't interfere. 

It's not really his story and, in fact, despite several of the original trilogy X-Men being in this (Storm, Colossus, Iceman and Shadowcat all show up, as do Patrick Stewart!Xavier and Ian McKellen!Magneto, and are joined by four newer X-Men), none of them really do much. Storm, Colossus and Iceman all have about three minutes screen time each, Shadowcat is reduced to a walking (or, more often, crouching) plot device, and Magneto and Xavier, while much more prominent, also hardly do anything, although we do get a nice scene of the two Xaviers talking through the magic of time travel and telepathy.

Which is a shame because, to be brutally honest, this would have been a much more interesting film if it had focused entirely on the future sections, which were prettier, more atmospheric, and had more interesting characters. I think, actually, you could have easily spun this out into two films: One focusing on the future X-Men fighting back against the Sentinels in the future, and scoring a major victory, but with the film still ending on a downer note; and then one which kept a reasonable amount of focus on the future X-Men, but also involved the 'let's go back in time' plot of this film.

Lose the beard, Bobby.

As it is, this film is almost entirely focused on the past sections, which might have made a little more sense if it hadn't slashed and burned the First Class cast. Most of them are dead, something established in a blink-and-you'll-miss-it line of dialogue from Erik. Of those who remain, one shows up for all of five minutes in an entirely unnecessary scene, leaving us with Erik, Mystique, Charles and Hank. The addition of Quicksilver for a brief portion of the film (before he vanishes off) feels a bit egregious when Fox couldn't even be bothered to keep most of the cast of its last film.

This really gets my goat, if you hadn't noticed.

The past sections also just aren't as good as the future settings. They aren't as striking to look at, they lack the same sense of danger, and the plotting isn't really coherent. 'You'll need to get Erik out of prison to stop Mystique,' oh, awesome. Why? Are you - ever going to explain why? I mean, if anything, he turns out to be a massive liability. 

How does Trask know immediately that he can revolutionise the Sentinels with Mystique's bone marrow and brain matter, but in the timeline in which the government actually gets samples of it, it takes them fifty years to do that? For the matter, why would the blood, bone marrow and brain matter of Mystique, whose ability is literally just transforming into other people, give the Sentinels the ability to counter and sometimes reproduce mutations, up to and including producing fire and ice blasts, when Mystique has absolutely no ability to reproduce mutations or counter them and, as you established in this very film, doesn't even have powers that extend as far as healing herself?

(Hey, you know who does have the ability to counter pretty much anything? Darwin. Remember who you killed off in First Class even though it made no sense and didn't serve the plot, Fox? Darwin!)

Not pictured here because he's dead: Darwin!

Why would Erik bother to make his presence known during his Sentinel hijack, when it would have been much more efficient and effective to remain hidden, thus giving the impression that the Sentinels were going berserk because of some fatal flaw in their design, which would basically kill the project forever and cast Trask's name into disrepute?

For that matter, why is the past-to-future time parity along the lines of hours to seconds or minutes at the beginning of the film, but suddenly lines up exactly towards the end?

It's not as if the past sections were terrible, especially when compared to other Fox offerings like The Wolverine - in fact, they were very enjoyable, with most of the cast putting in excellent performances. But you can't pair them with a parallel storyline that is consistently more striking, memorable, and coherent, and not expect them to come off worse in comparison.

But in spite of everything, this is a fun action flick. Fox has no chance in hell of ever getting one over on Marvel if it keeps making films like this, granted, but it's fun (almost fun enough to distract you from how Fox has basically been gutting X-Men canon for a decade now), and it will distract you well enough for two hours. So it does have my recommendation.

- Ugh, we're getting another one soon. About Apocalypse. Goody. 

Monday, 26 January 2015

Kamen Rider Drive E15: When Will These Feelings Reach You?


Kamen Rider Drive
Episode 15
When Will These Feelings Reach You?



Since we finished the last bingo last week, I have taken the liberty of creating the Kamen Rider Drive Bingo Mk. 2. This time I used a premade bingo grid. It looks nicer, don't pretend it doesn't. 

I should also clarify before I show this that I hadn't seen this episode yet when I made this. That - is a relevant factor, I think.



Anyway, with that out of the way, let's talk about Episode 15. The second half of a story following both an actress' multiple Roimyude stalkers (including one who leaves tarot cards with his victims) and Chase's discovery that he is actually Proto-Drive (what a twist), this episode sees us discover the truth behind the black-cloaked Roimyude, and continues the Chase storyline. 

I actually really liked this episode. That's, what, three episodes in a row now that I've enjoyed? We're doing pretty well here. Since this episode had two simultaneous plot threads, I'll look at them one by one.

First, the Roimyude-of-the-fortnight storyline. I'll be honest, while I liked this storyline a lot, and I thought it had a lot of impact and a lot of emotional weight, and tied in well with the other plotline of this episode, it was far from flawless. The question of 'Could this Roimyude really be this important dude?' came across to me as a ridiculous question for the characters to ask, since Roimyude aren't Orphenochs, who used to be human, or even Phantoms, who were born from humans and retain some of their personality traits: They copy humans, but they aren't the same people, and it was odd to see nobody pointing this out (not even Gou, who had much motivation to) when in the previous episode this feature of Roimyudes was an important plot element.

These reflections are physically impossible.

The other big problem was the plot twist towards the end. While I did like the plot twist, and I thought it was a pretty strong twist, it had pretty much no foreshadowing. There was no way an audience could figure out that this was what was going on, no hint that they could work with. It would have been very simple to hint at it, too: Have Lira's agent urge the police to stop investigating her missing boyfriend, claim that it's for Lira's sake, but refuse to say anything else, maybe. Have Lira display flashes of violent emotion that quickly pass. Have the landlady remark that Lira seemed a bit strange. You could have had all the foreshadowing you needed in less than two minutes spread out over two episodes.

(Also, why did her agent demand that Lira's boyfriend break up with her? 'Oh, she's going to become a big star soon, it's best if you break up with her.' What, is her attractive, famous boyfriend going to drag her down?)

Nevertheless, I did like this plotline, and in many ways it served as the Oh-Hey-Maybe-Yugo-Is-A-Good-Guy-Oh-God-I've-Made-A-Terrible-Mistake plotline (from Wizard) of Drive, although I'd argue that Wizard handled it a bit better. 

What a pair of dorks.

Which leaves the Chase plot - and you could probably make the argument that that's the main plotline of these two episodes, seeing as how neither of the Roimyudes of the fortnight got evolved forms. To be honest, I'm a bit divided on this plotline: On the one hand, Medic brainwashing Chase with 'a more dangerous method' is both very sinister and reeks of something that will come back to haunt everyone later (hopefully not too much later). But I also wonder if this was the most interesting route they could have gone down? After fourteen episodes of seemingly constant Chase-Shinnosuke fights, interspersed with Chase being stoic and grim, we finally get a development that looks like it's going to take the storyline in a different direction - only for Chase to be immediately reset, putting us back in 'fighting with Shinnosuke, being stoic and grim' territory. 

So, I'm divided. It also seemed oddly out of character for Heart to allow this. He's been shown to be someone who cares very deeply for all of his subordinates, so I wonder if it would have been more in-character for him to decide that Chase should be mercy-killed, or even decide to let him go, rather than to permit a dangerous form of brainwashing. 

Wait, how is this card intact? It's been underwater for months.

Kiriko, Shinnosuke, and Gou's reactions to this development all suited them well, though. Kiriko has a personal stake in Chase turning out okay, so it follows that she'd believe that he could be saved (a viewpoint that is, currently, supported by evidence); Shinnosuke has long seen Chase as a frenemy of sorts, so it'd follow that he'd be reluctant to fight a fully brainwashed Chase, who isn't really the person he's formed this weird rivalry-friendship with; and Gou set himself up very early as a scorch-the-earth-ends-justify-the-means kind of guy, so his position of 'Nah, he needs to die' makes sense as well.

I'll be interested to see where this storyline goes, but at the moment I'm very torn about it. As was the case with this episode's other storyline, though, I did enjoy watching it.

Anyway, let's look at the bingo, updated after this episode.



Eh-heh.

Next week, we seem to be getting a more comedic episode, and one that focuses on Rinna, so that'll be interesting, I think.

Saturday, 24 January 2015

Kingdom Hearts: Dream Drop Distance.


Kingdom Hearts: Dream Drop Distance.



Hey, guys. You know what I have a craving for today? Kingdom Hearts. But I refrain from playing it, because I know I'll only regret it. It's like when you're drunk and you crave a donor kebab. You know that it will only make you throw up and won't even taste that good in the first place, so if you are a wise drunk, you refrain.

But let's talk about the last Kingdom Hearts game I played, Dream Drop Distance. What a ridiculous title. 

Dream Drop Distance covers Sora and Riku's Mark of Mastery Exam, which sees them journeying through 'sleeping' worlds where dream monsters called Dream Eaters have started rampaging. Allying themselves with good Dream Eaters, the two seek to awaken the worlds they pass through, while tangling with a mysterious time-manipulating youth. 

Like any Kingdom Hearts game, the best part about it is the opening cutscene, which is beautiful and which you should check out immediately. I will await your return here.

I'll just look at this picture while you're gone.

Okay, done that? Good. Let's continue.

Dream Drop Distance is a very typical Kingdom Hearts game: The gameplay is more or less identical to Birth by Sleep, which in turn hasn't really changed much from Kingdom Hearts 2. Which is fine, actually: Riddled with issues as this series is, gameplay is not and has never been one of its major problems. It's solid hack and slash gameplay with some RPG elements, and that works out just fine for it. Purportedly they tried to make gameplay between Sora and Riku different, but as is the case with Birth by Sleep, you can't really tell. 

The major new addition for this game is that you have a party of good Dream Eaters at your disposal. You can switch these Dream Eaters out to create a new party with new abilities, and they factor into your special attacks - either launching a team attack with Sora or fusing with Riku to give him a super mode, depending on who you're playing as. It's a nice touch to the gameplay, one that nudges it a little more towards the RPG end of the scale than its predecessors, although it does come off as a little incongruous when you're in a climactic battle and a rainbow coloured deer is frolicking behind you firing lasers from its antlers.

(Like all Kingdom Hearts games, the worlds you visit - whether they be meant to be bustling marketplaces, busy cities, or anywhere else - are utterly deserted save for monsters, making everywhere you go seem utterly lifeless. We know it's not meant to be intentional, a play on these worlds 'dreaming', because every game in this series is like this, and that's terrible. But that's not really the problem either.)

What a heterosexual shot.

No, where Dream Drop Distance's problems lie is its story, as is always the case, because Kingdom Hearts stories are incoherent. What on earth was going on in this game, you ask? Well, don't look at me, somewhere around the point where dead characters started showing up and they started explaining the rules of time travel and talking about seekers of light and darkness, I had to tune all of the pretentious nonsense. Who knows what's going on! Who knows anything anymore? It's all just Leonard Nimoy and Mickey Mouse ranting at each other about hearts, and I'm too old to try to parse any of that. If you actually have a coherent explanation of the plot, then by all means tell me.

Sometimes, people try to claim to me that there is some great plan behind all of this. Often, that person is Tetsuya Nomura, and he isn't claiming it to me personally so much as the world at large, but the fact remains that it is an obvious falsehood. It has been very clear throughout these past few Kingdom Hearts games that this story is being made up as it goes along, and not very well, which is why we now have this bizarre tangle of pretension, gibberish and fanservice. I am displeased with this. 

The smaller plots in each individual world aren't great either. In a fortunate twist, you're only visiting them twice this time around, not three times as you were in Birth by Sleep, and I can't actually remember what any of those individual plots were. They made no impression on me, they were just sort of there, being thinly veiled excuses to throw more monsters at you. 

Cashing in on TRON Legacy, I see.

Not to mention that while Sora is fun to watch, Riku is about as interesting as soggy cardboard. 

So, all in all, it's - well, not disappointing, because my expectations of Kingdom Hearts are catastrophically low, but not very good, let's put it that way. It is good but not remarkable gameplay strung together with a storyline that makes absolutely no sense if you haven't played its predecessors, makes almost no sense if you have, and hinges largely on the ability of the most boring character in the franchise to carry half the game. 

But, you know, it's not as if Kingdom Hearts III will ever be released, so we must make do. 

Friday, 23 January 2015

Silent Hill: Downpour.


Silent Hill: Downpour.



I'm a little surprised that this isn't on here. After all, I played this ages ago.

('I played this', in this instance, actually referring to me watching and clutching a pillow while one of my learned colleagues played it, but for the purposes of this review we'll assume that all my colleagues are just animate extensions of my will. I'm sure none of them will be at all offended by this.)

Silent Hill: Downpour is the story of Murphy Pendleton, a convict who, during a prisoner transfer, ends up wandering in the town of Silent Hill, where there are monsters, evil rainstorms, and generally unpleasant stuff. Why anyone still goes to Silent Hill is a mystery to me: Some people just aren't put off by all the mysterious death, I suppose.

In terms of gameplay, it is completely what you'd expect. Gameplay in Silent Hill, all told, has not really progressed since the days of Silent Hill 2, nor does it need to: It's very basic hack-and-slash gameplay, just with a focus on suspense rather than action. Pendleton doesn't carry the iconic radio, leaving you without an early warning system for monsters, but monsters come out more frequently when it's raining. 

Like this fine gentleman. Hello, sir! Are you feeling quite well? Love the mask!

The biggest - perhaps even the only - gameplay change is in the occasionally chases from the strange, voidlike monster that haunts the darker, MC Escher side of Silent Hill that only appears when things are sufficiently moist. Drawing inspiration from similar chases in Silent Hill: Shattered Memories, these sections involve you fleeing for your life from a monster you can't see, but who will pursue you with a maze that I feel you almost certainly cannot figure out how to navigate on your own, especially during later chase sections. If you get too close, it will suck you in, and it's very fast.

This is not fun. These sections are, in fact, the least fun parts of the game by a country mile. They're frustrating, very difficult and confusing without a walkthrough, and result in more game overs than the entire rest of the game combined. They were a bad move.

The storyline is also very typical Silent Hill fare, enough that you do start to wonder at points when this franchise will stop trying to relive Silent Hill 2. As is often the case, the story revolves around Pendleton confronting his past trauma, which the town has manifested for him in horrifying monsters and scenery form. In Pendleton's case, his trauma relates to his son being violated and killed, Pendleton going to prison, murdering the man who killed his son, and then helping to kill a corrections officer. That is a hefty list of traumatic experiences, but the game does manage to balance them all pretty well, in fairness to it.

Get a haircut, Pendleton.

It's not a bad storyline. A touch formulaic by the standards of survival horror games, but since it was the Silent Hill franchise that created that formula that has now been so widely imitated within the genre, I feel compelled to give any game from it a pass, at least somewhat.

Pendleton is an interesting character with a really great first name, and the game throws him up against some interesting monsters, including one (which you never fight) which seems to be the monster form of a man who just committed suicide, and the Bogeyman, who while essentially just being Pyramid Head Mk. 2 is still very intimidating and memorable. The story falls down a little at the end, as it gives you multiple options as far as what happened in the past, which just frames Pendleton's entire backstory in a really odd way: It's traumatic, sure, but it now becomes Schrodinger's Torment, where it could be any of several terrible experiences until you find out what it is. That's a little offputting to me.

(You do get to briefly play as the Bogeyman, incidentally. It's fun! More fun than his actual boss battle, which was depressingly easy.)

For the man with a hammer, everyone is a nail.

The scenery is beautiful, and used to good effect in the semi-open-world Silent Hill that Murphy is passing through. It's at its best in the dark world, which adjust the laws of physics into strange, damp MC Escher paintings, requiring that you navigate bizarre alien geometries to escape danger. Of course, that is ruined a little by the frequent and sudden scripted appearances of the void monster in these sections, but you can't have everything, I suppose. The OST is good too, and the voice acting is strong: Neither of them are really remarkable, but they serve their purpose adequately. 

All in all, it's a good game, but it's definitely not one of the better Silent Hill games. While very fun to play, and certainly better than its deformed and bizarre brothers Homecoming and Origins, it isn't anywhere near as atmospheric as either the game it's emulating, Silent Hill 2, or a handful of other games in the series. Still, if you see it on sale, I would recommend picking it up, especially since we're going to be seeing Silent Hills hit our shelves before too long.

Thursday, 22 January 2015

Character Spotlight: Count Saazbaum, Aldnoah.Zero.


Character Spotlight: Count Saazbaum, Aldnoah.Zero.

I did not expect to like Saazbaum as much as I did when I started watching Aldnoah.Zero. He was a very obvious villain: Coiffed, dressed in regency fashion, smugly drawling about war in a way so obvious that even the characters around him were like 'Dude, Saazbaum, shut up, man.' Even his main underling was obviously villainous, a man with a bowl cut who spent his time laughing maniacally and referring to people around him as rats.

At the beginning of the series, at least, Saazbaum was a Saturday Morning Cartoon villain, rubbing his hands and being thwarted by Those Goshdarn Kids. He was the main face of the villainous Martian conspiracy, directing a genocidal war with the manner of an imperialist aristocrat.

It isn't really until episodes eight, nine and ten that he becomes interesting. Faced with the prospect of a very minor thorn in his plans being killed, Saazbaum puts his own health and his entire plan at risk to swoop in and rescue said thorn, straight up murdering an ally in the process. As that trio of episodes goes on, Saazbaum proceeds to eat a meal with this minor inconvenience, revealing his motivations - to use the war he started to improve the lives of the citizens of Mars (who live, for the most part, in abject poverty with little water and food), and depose the royal family who he feels is at fault for Mars' problems. 

It's not the most original motivation, but it is an understandable one, especially given that the series is built around the principle of 'Let justice be done, though the heavens fall.' To Saazbaum, his plan must be good: He is bringing down justice upon a corrupt emperor and a planet that abandoned his people, and balancing a debt that both those parties owe the people of Mars. To that end, any amount of sacrifice, bloodshed and violence is correct. That is, after all, what those words entail - justice achieved at any cost. 

You okay there, dude?

Then he goes on to free said thorn in his plans, citing a debt that he owes the boy's father. He's aware that this may well come back and bite him later, and he acknowledges such, but it's the less important matter: His principles demand a course of action that he knows is impractical, and he doesn't hesitate in taking it.

To me, that's a lot more interesting than a villain that always does the smart thing. A villain who is principled, and obsessed with his principles, is both more fun to watch and more dangerous for the protagonists. After all, any smart person would just give up after being thwarted over and over again, but someone who is driven by principle will just keep trying. But Saazbaum makes mistakes, gets flustered, does things he knows he shouldn't, and, at least once, fails and has to pick himself back up again.

Saazbaum is proud, and I like that. Pride, portrayed properly, is a lot more interesting to watch than a perfect manipulator.

Also, he has a really cool giant robot.


So cool.


Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Snow White and the Huntsman.


Snow White and the Huntsman.



This, like a whole lot of films, was one I watched during the Long Winter of 2013. During that period, I had a job that could eventually be described as thus: Go and sit on your own in an office for eight hours every day, with only a computer that didn't have internet access. My consumption of films and TV series during that period was staggering, including the entirety of Strike Back and Dracula, about five different Christmas films, and just about any other film that interested me. Snow White and the Huntsman, which I had been aware of mostly in its capacity as 'that one Snow White film that is coincidentally coming out almost at the same time as that other Snow White film' was one of the later ones I watched.

(I've never seen the other Snow White film, incidentally. Something for a rainy day, perhaps.)

Snow White and the Huntsman is the ... ugh, the dark action re-imagining of Snow White, and god knows I'm tired of those. Deposed and imprisoned by sorceress queen Ravana, who restores her youth by sucking beauty out of people (and the film cannot seem to decide whether beauty in this instance refers to some kind of beauty of spirit or actual physical attractiveness), Snow White escapes and finds herself allied with the brawny, dangerous Huntsman as she gathers a resistance force to take down the queen. 

Also, Xerneas shows up, but he's not really relevant.

Okay, firstly, while I do not find this nearly as offensive as the 'let's take a story about a woman, change it to being about a woman and a man, and change the name to some kind of adjective' trend of late (hey there Tangled), or the 'let's take a story about a woman and filter it through the trend of a Men's Rights Activist's (are they calling themselves 'Meninists' now?) tortured mind until it's all about a man' trend (hey there Oz the Great and Powerful), since Snow White is still very much the main character, and the Huntsman very much one of her supporting cast, I am a bit annoyed.

Really, guys? You had to take the extremely minor male character and amp up his importance for your gritty action reboot? Did you just not think you could get that prized sweaty teenage boy demographic in seats if they couldn't stare at Hemsworth's rippling muscles before hurriedly spraying another coat of Axe on themselves? 

Can they not get flustered over Sam Claflin instead?

Why not just have him not be a major character, like he is in the source material you're using. Have Snow White carry the film on her own. She's not short on people to interact with, she has seven dwarves. Hell, if you need a love interest who isn't the prince, then Peter Jackson has demonstrated for you that Hot Dwarves are absolutely a thing that audiences will accept.

As far as the film goes on quality, though, it's, um, it's just kind of there. The scenery is very nice, but none of it is remarkable. The OST is sufficient, but forgettable. The acting is, for the most part, okay: Kristen Stewart and Chris Hemsworth both put in performances that are perfectly fine, but really nothing else - I realise that some people may have wanted me to say Stewart's performance was terrible and wooden, but it wasn't, I had no problem with it. 

Probably the best members of the cast were Sam Claflin, playing a childhood friend of Snow's, and Charlize Theron, who puts in an extremely hammy but very fun to watch performance as Ravana. At one point, we had Sam Claflin playing Charlize Theron playing Ravana, and that was a treat to watch. Everyone else was just kind of passable.

But hey, four for you and your creepy throne, Charlize.

The plot wasn't quite up to even that standard, though, being poorly paced and with several plot holes, not the least being that the film swung back and forth between 'we intend fairest to mean physically attractive', with things like women cutting their faces so that Ravana won't come for them, and 'we intend to fairest to refer to some kind of spiritual property', with characters talking in hushed tones about how 'fair' Snow is while magical animals swear fealty to her. I'm good with either, to be honest, but please, please make up your mind.

The fact that it wasn't a box office flop can probably be largely chalked up to star power, with Kristen Stewart, Chris Hemsworth and Charlize Theron drawing in audience members, because this film is every bit as forgettable as its trailers made it out to be. Not really bad, not really good, just kind of aggressively middle of the road. Still, it killed a couple of hours, and at the point where I watched it, that was really all I could ask of it, so good show. Ten out of ten. 

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Editorial: Top 5 Animated Series of 2014.


Editorial: Top 5 Animated Series of 2014.

Last one, I swear. I did say I would do this, though, and I'm bound by my word in that regard.

(I have specifically said 'animated' rather than 'anime' here, since one of the series on this list is definitely not an anime.)

Anyway, let's roll on with the list.


5. Nobunaga the Fool.

This should surprise absolutely nobody, my love affair with Nobunaga the Fool is extremely well-documented at this point. Look, I like crazy, okay? I like wacky philosophical hijinks with ridiculous over-the-top action, gorgeous animation, and a great soundtrack. I adored this series. If I met this series in a bar, I would buy it all of the drinks.

But I do have to admit, it's got a - lot of problems, not least being that the plot is utterly incoherent and really only gets more so as time goes on. I could barely justify putting it on this list, so I certainly couldn't justify putting it any higher than the bottom spot.

But if I could have, I would have. 


4. Psycho-Pass 2.

I think pretty much everyone who watched the first Psycho-Pass expected this to be really good, and I, at least, wasn't disappointed. Well, I was a little disappointed sometimes. 

Akane made a great protagonist and Kamui a great antagonist, the plot was fun and raised some interesting questions, the writing and pacing was a lot tighter than the first series (not least due to having some half the episodes to work with), and the animation, music, and voice acting remained top-notch.

But gosh, did it have a bit of an obsession with Saw-esque gross-out horror. It was distracting at points, the way the series would try to shove limbs and faces and blood at you while yelling 'ooga booga wooga' and hoping you'd be frightened.


3. Aldnoah.Zero.

'Oh my god,' someone might possibly be saying somewhere maybe. 'Another mecha series?'

Actually, in general, 2014 had a statistically significant amount of giant mecha anime. Aldnoah.Zero, Nobunaga the Fool, Shirogane no Ishi: Argevollen, Break Blade, and more besides. You could barely get away from them, giant robots were absolutely everywhere. I think Aldnoah.Zero was probably the best of them, though, and I will fight anyone on that.

It was fun, ridiculous, over-the-top, and had both some interesting worldbuilding that explored the idea of desperate people essentially deluding themselves into thinking they were a great culture with the help of intense jingoism (heh, that sounds like some people we know), and a nice premise of 'real robot vs super-mechas.' 

Also, a possibly autistic main character. Possibly. No confirmation on that one.


2. Legend of Korra.

Legend of Korra actually also had a giant robot in it. Seriously, giant robots, what is it with those in animated series this year? Has it always been like this and I just never noticed before?

I have always liked Legend of Korra, but it's been up and down in quality a lot. In 2014, though, it was at its best, throwing interesting villains like the Red Lotus and Kuvira at us, having storylines dealing with disability and invisible illnesses, utilising some very tight and streamlined writing, showing consistently good animation, and culminating in two characters being confirmed to be a canonical LGBT couple.

(If you cock your head to the wind, you can still hear the sound of Mako fans crying.)

There was also a video game. Maybe the less said about that the better, for now.


1. Free! Eternal Summer.

This was a difficult choice, and Legend of Korra could have easily seized the top spot, missing out only because of Nickelodeon-executive-fuelled ridiculousness. 

Free! was something that I watched more on a whim than anything else, since I'm not a big sports anime fan, but it got me hooked very quickly. It's a very solid, well-written series, with good characters, some excellent storylines, and perhaps most importantly, the ability to visit crushing emotional impacts upon its audience. 

So, it was a close one, but Free! did eventually take the top spot, and I think it deserves it.

Monday, 19 January 2015

Kamen Rider Drive E14: Who Is The Black Shadow Chasing Her?


Kamen Rider Drive
Episode 14
Who Is The Black Shadow Chasing Her?



I'm not sure how to start this one, so let's head straight to a look at the bingo as it stood at the end of last week's bingotastic episode:



Doing good.

In this episode, Chase begins to have some manner of nervous breakdown, pursuing Kiriko while hearing voices, much to the alarm of Gou. Meanwhile, an actress has found herself being stalked by a Roimyude, requiring that Shinnosuke and the Special Unit guard her and root out the stalker.

I actually really enjoyed this episode. It's weird, this is the second episode in a row that I've really liked. It's not Gaim quality, but it would have certainly served as a very solid episode of Wizard, or an okay-ish episode of OOO, Double or Fourze. I realise that might not be a sterling recommendation, but when you consider that despite my best efforts to muster enthusiasm for this series, I have found myself consistently bored stiff, this does represent a pretty marked increase in quality.

(The plot in this episode is very reminiscent of Double or Fourze, too, involving a bait-and-switch-confused-identities situation in which a hunt for one Roimyude turns out to be a hunt for two: One stalking the victim-of-the-fortnight and one protecting her, who she seemingly recognises. Obviously, the latter is meant to parallel Kiriko's dynamic with Chase, as he's both her enemy and somewhat her protector, and I'm okay with that. Everyone loves some good parallels.)

People also love symbolism.

One thing I would call the episode out on, though, are the rather odd mood shifts in the opening few minutes. The episode starts with quite a dark, brooding mood, managing to quite effectively establish the threat of both the stalker Roimyude and Chase. It then switches very suddenly to comedy, and the change is a more than a touch jarring, especially as that ominous mood never really returns.

I do appreciate that this episode is somewhat more comedic than previous episodes, though. I know a few people weren't keen, finding the humour over-the-top and clunky, but I hold that Drive does comedy better than it does action or drama, and there's naught wrong with a more comedic Kamen Rider series. 

I especially enjoyed Gou in this episode. Having played him fairly straight (mostly) in his first two episode, the show is now eagerly satirising him, having his lengthy roll call be interrupted, used as an opening for a Roimyude to get away, and skipped altogether. 

I'm also liking Medic, although I want to see something more from her. At the moment, she's kind of sinister but ineffectual - this episode showed some hints of her as a manipulator, using Brain, Chase and Heart to achieve what she personally wants, but it's a mystery as to whether the show will build on that at all. I really hope they do, but I'm also extremely aware that this is from the team that gave us 'We don't want more than one female Kyoryuger because it would be unrealistic for more than one woman to beat up a dinosaur/because this is aimed at boys and we want it to be a macho series', so I'm not optimistic.

Ah, well, here's Shinnosuke.

Speaking of things I'm not usually optimistic about, the action sequences in this episode are good, for the most part. They're not amazing - we're not talking Shinkenger level fight choreography here - but they're enjoyable to watch, even if one of them does involve a battle between a terrible CGI bat-car and an equally terrible CGI combining-motorbike-buggy. I don't generally find Kamen Rider's short CGI sequences all that obnoxious, but I'm not going to pretend they're particularly well done, either.

The PS1 called.

The plot twist towards the end is - not really a plot twist, I think literally everyone watching knew that that was coming, but it was very dramatically pulled off, and I'm very glad they finally got around to doing it. While this stage in Chase's character arc feels rather poorly paced, as he hasn't shown any signs of hearing voices, suffering headaches, et cetera, in the last two episodes (seriously, all it would have taken is a thirty second scene), I am just very relieved that they're finally moving towards him not constantly fighting Shinnosuke anymore. It got wearying and same-y weeks ago. 

I'm looking forward to the next episode, especially since the concluding episode of an arc is always better than the one that starts it. It looks like we'll be seeing a few more of Brain and Medic's powers, including brainwashing Chase, something which I can't imagine Heart will approve of. 

In the meantime, though, here's the updated bingo:



If you're wondering why I filled in that last space, it's that with this episode's plot twist it is revealed that it probably should have been filled in months ago: After all, Kiriko has seen Chase in his human form many times now without recognising that he's Proto-Drive. 

Also, stick a fork in this bingo, because it's done. Time for me to make a new one. With a bonus section.