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Behind the Mask ~ Tokyo Ghoul

 tokyo ghoul characters

“What’s 1000 minus 7? I’m waiting for an answer.”

In a world not so different from our own, there are creatures that live alongside us and appear just like any normal person. They go to work, study at school, hang out with friends and simply enjoy life just as much as the next person. Oh, but one teeny tiny detail makes them somewhat dislikable: they can only survive off human flesh. How unfortunate. In this world, it can be hard to differentiate between regular humans and these other creatures, known as Ghouls, until it is too late; and it is for this reason that the police do their very best to protect the public, in particular a group known as the CCG – an elite ghoul investigation agency. The difference between good and evil is often just a matter of perspective. What if the ghouls are not really the horrible creatures they have been made out to be? But what if they are? Welcome to Tokyo Ghoul.

Tokyo Ghoul Scene

Tokyo Ghoul (season one) is an anime adaption of the original manga written by Sui Ishida. It follows the main protagonist Ken Kaneki, who is forced to leave his normal college life behind after a horrifying accident that resulted in him becoming a rare one-eyed ghoul. Normally people are either human or ghoul; but to save his life after the accident, doctors transplanted ghoul organs into Kaneki which placed him in the predicament he is now in.

The first few episodes do a great job of pulling viewers into this macabre world. Kaneki is terrified and confused, unable to consume normal human food (as it tastes horrible to ghouls) but also unwilling to eat human flesh. Nearing his wits end, he soon comes to meet an elderly ghoul who runs a coffee shop and offers to take in Kaneki; it is there that he meets Touka (also known as “the rabbit” by the CCG), Ryouko and her daughter Hiname, as well as many other characters both with good intentions and ill. He also must keep the fact that he is a ghoul from any and all humans including his best friend, Hide.

tokyo ghoul touka

The rest of the series explores instances from both the human and ghoul side of things. While many of the main characters in focus are ghouls, viewers can relate that they are (for the most part) trying their best to not be the monsters they are made out to be; however, the CCG side is not necessarily an evil force either. It is a strange balance of morality in play where casualties and deaths on either side are seemingly meant to tug on our heartstrings, whether there was much character development or not. We see a family of ghouls torn apart – one parent murdered by ghouls while the other is slain by humans, yet we also are given a glimpse of a ghoul and human relationship shining a small ray of hope that not everything must end in bloodshed. There are so many intriguing characters that enter the scene that it makes it all the more unfortunate that they are given so little exploration.

In essence, that is probably the root of the problem that halts this anime from the excellence it could have very easily achieved: it tried to shove more content into 12 episodes then it could ever truly be give justice to. While I have not read the manga, watching the anime has certainly put that on my list to read; almost acting like a drawn out commercial enticing me to get the full story. Don’t get me wrong, the anime is not horrible and certainly had its good points, but it often left me wanting more. There were episodes that really pulled me in, ending in a cliffhanger winding up towards a huge battle…only to have the next episode begin long after the battle had been resolved and everyone was back to their normal everyday life. Without going into too much detail, the finale of the anime also played this same tune: a huge battle between the coffee shop ghouls, an enemy faction of ghouls and the police introduces brief glimpses of spectacular battles to come and then everything ends without any kind of cliffhanger or resolution (there is a season 2 that apparently picks up right where season 1 ends, but it is still not an ideal solution).

tokyo ghoul characters2

While there are certainly issues abound with character development, plot holes and the like, the anime still holds some merit. The soundtrack is exceptional from the OP and ED themes to the action intensive and heart wrenching melodies that lie within. The music does an excellent job at making whatever is occurring on screen truly reach into the souls of viewers and make them feel at least some ounce of sadness, rage or joy at what is happening to the characters they may or may not have much understanding of. Probably the most outstanding aspect lies in the art style used, particularly during the battle scenes. The fights that take place can only be described as violent bloodbaths that are not for the faint of heart. With bloodshot eyes and special abilities, the ghouls are simply fantastical to watch with their unique “kagune” (an organ they can manifest to use as a weapon or shield) as they maneuver and strike at their foes. Their “kagune” simply glows with an internal fire that stands apart from the rest of the animation and it is almost mesmerizing to watch.

Tokyo Ghoul kaneki

In the end, Tokyo Ghoul is a supernatural horror anime that does its best to adapt an exceptionally popular manga into anime form and falls slightly short of its goal. The basic premise, art style and music of the series still make it enjoyable to watch, but it will leave you wanting more – which is both good and bad. If you do decide to give this one a try, I would highly recommend watching it on DVD/Blu-ray, as streaming has some pretty horrific displays of censorship particularly during the spectacular fight scenes.

Now, the only thing that is left is for you to decide: Ghouls need to kill to survive and humans have a right to protect their own. Which side are you on?

 

(My review was originally posted on Realm of Gaming…which seems to no longer exist. Here it shall live on!)

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Witch and the Hundred Knight

There are those that grow up with a gift for magic; usually gifted with a strain of magic so powerful that without a careful guided hand they may never truly achieve their full potential. It is then that these apprentice witches seek out a Great Witch where they will dedicate their lives to study for a number of years before they can then be affirmed as a true witch of their own. However, not all witches choose to walk this path. There are those who are simply born a Great Witch – whether officially recognized or not. The Great Swamp Witch Metallia is one such example of this rare breed.

Metallia is rather young, as witches go, having only walked the world for around 100 years and yet her power is incredible. Unfortunately, and this is no secret to her, she only has but a limited number of days before her life force is snuffed out for good. Metallia’s dream and goal is to see the world – or rather, control it! However, to make this slightly more difficult is the fact that Metallia can only tread on areas covered in her beloved swamp. It is then that she schemes the plan to make one of the most legendary creatures in witch lore become her personal familiar: the Hundred Knight. It is said that the Hundred Knight is a fierce deity with the strength and power of one hundred soldiers and fighters – well, this should make accomplishing her dream easier, right?

Witch pic

The Witch and the Hundred Knight: Revival Edition is a top down combat JRPG with visual novel-esque cutscenes that move the story along. The “Revival” part points out the fact that this is something of a remastered PS4 edition of the original PS3 version which released back in 2013. Players control the familiar Hundred Knight ordered around and guided by Metallia. It’s main mission being to travel the world seeking out Pillars of Temperance which, once destroyed and made to “bloom”, flourish and transform the land into something reminiscent of the swamplands Metallia holds so dear. This allows Metallia to travel the world, viewing the sights, gaining additional power and otherwise completely destroying all those who she deems enemies.

The game itself is broken down into 13 chapters with each chapter focusing on a different NPC character which may prove to be an ally of sorts or an enemy which must be reckoned with. Each small story arc aids in progressing the story along nicely as well as gaining insight into the various characters and personalities found throughout. It also grants the oftentimes rare opportunity at playing from the villain’s perspective – where numerous actions involved in the story and decisions made feel oh so wrong, yet are oh so right.

The Witch and the Hundred Knight: Revival Edition_20160227171207

While there are certainly enough story cutscenes to go around (all of which can either be read at a normal pace, fast forwarded through, or skipped entirely – a rather nice feature for those who would rather get back to the action faster), it is the action and combat portions of the game that truly makes up its heart. Players control the Hundred Knight through a medley of colorful locations seen from a top down perspective – beautiful sunlit forests brimming with life, quaint little towns, castles made from a Valentine’s Day dream, windy canyon paths, dimension altering caves and even decaying mountain treks. While there is certainly a similar feel and grind to each location, it does a fairly good job in at least making the environments interesting enough to explore and spend time leveling up in. While the environment hopes to truly immerse the player into the game (and it does to some extent) it can get obnoxious at times as Hundred Knight runs under a tree and all visibility disappears; so forewarning, get used to working the camera joystick fairly often or simply swinging blinding in case something attempts to chew Hundred Knight’s face off while out of sight!

So now that the scene is set, let’s get into the actual combat of this title. As stated earlier, this is a top down dungeon crawler where various enemies will be stationed throughout the map waiting to ambush and be slaughtered by the Hundred Knight. In additional to larger boss creatures, usually the pillar’s guardians of each area, there are regular trash mobs to kill. These enemies usually can be found in small groups but also individually; some remain stationary until approached while others will have a limited area in which they roam. Enemies also respawn on their own after a short while which aids nicely when attempting to grind some levels – and grind levels you will be doing! Hundred Knight has 6 facets or forms, each of which can reach level 99; however, only one main facet (which gains 100% xp) and two sub facets (which gain about 30% xp) can be equipped at a time. These facets each have their own unique skills, perks and weapon prowess stats – so equipping the right ones for the correct situation can make all the difference!

Witch combat

So we have story and combat, but what is any kind of RPG without weapons and gear? Hundred Knight can be equipped with three different gear sets each made up of 5 weapons that can be strung together to make devastating combos. Of course there are various weapon types that each have a special attack rate and type (slashing/magic/blunt/etc) which will prove either quite useful or less than effective against certain enemies. Up to 4 additional accessories can also be equipped to help raise the Hundred Knight’s defenses and resistances. Additionally, each weapon and accessory has a rarity and the higher the rarity the more the weapon or accessory can be upgraded. There are also some specialized abilities that can be used called Tochka which vary from projectile attacks to bombs to small creatures that help fight or distract enemies.

It probably sounds like a lot is going on (and it is) but it is nothing that can’t be mastered with a little bit of practice – and there is plenty of that to be found! To make things a little bit more interesting, Hundred Knight has something called Gigacals which are pretty much the main resource that Hundred Knight uses to explore unknown territory, regain hp, use abilities, dodge, block and use special modes and attacks. Each area starts with 100% and it then decreases as Hundred Knight goes about the level. Should the Gigacals run out, Hundred Knight will start having some issues: HP will decrease, attacks will do less damage, all special abilities cannot be used and should HP run out completely there is no reviving. Luckily there are methods to replenish Gigacals but it is always a timer that players must keep careful stock of. Lastly, the no reviving part mentioned doesn’t mean complete game over; but seeing as Hundred Knight does not level up, obtain any items/weapons collected or have the ability to save until a level is left either via completion or manual warp back to base, it can be quite the devastating loss depending on the area and progress made.

witch chocolatta

On a different note, aesthetically the game is quite enchanting albeit simple. With the Revival Edition also granting a nice graphical overhaul, the art style can only be described as vibrant, magical and dark with a very fairy tale feel to it. The character design is also unique and varied and yet never feels out of place with the theme. Probably one of my favorite aspects of this game is its soundtrack. The overall atmosphere of the game is perfectly brought out by the numerous instrumental and vocal tracks found throughout. Each track helps bring out the emotions coming through the scene regardless if it is mysterious, dangerous, tragic or simply whimsical it is truly a highlight and joy to listen to.

Witch duo

While this game has quite a lot to offer both in overall experience as well as gameplay time and value, keep in mind it certainly is not for everyone. You will be grinding out a lot of levels (regardless if you plan to hit the 99 cap or not) simply to keep up with the difficulty of enemies and bosses – especially towards the end. Additionally, you will be getting bossed around constantly by a bratty, selfish and oftentimes snarky witch that uses plenty of colorful choice words. The game has quite a bit of content from the main story, multiple endings, level grinding, equipment upgrading and additional levels such as the Tower of Illusion. The challenge creep of being properly geared and leveled to handle new areas as well as learning enemy weakness all while keeping a watchful gaze on the Gigacals makes for a fun overall experience that adds a unique perspective to the genre.

Personally, I was happily surprised by how easily The Witch and the Hundred Knight: Revival Edition pulled me into its grasp. Even after all the hours I have put into this game over a short amount of time, I am still excited to go back and continue working towards that platinum trophy!

 

(My review was originally posted on Realm of Gaming…which seems to no longer exist. Here it shall live on!)

Yuri on ice title

Listen to the deafening roar of the crowd as a solitary individual emerges into view. Their lithe, form-fitting outfit allows them to move freely as their blades cut a path swiftly to their destination in the center of the rink. The audience waits with baited breath as the young performer strikes a dramatic pose then launches into action as the music rings throughout the stadium. Excitement, hope and anxiousness fills the stands as the competitor lands each jump combination in time with the beat and listens intently to the judges markings. They only get one shot at placing among the top ranks and taking the prized medal home – do they have what it takes? What gives someone the inspiration to go out onto the ice and compete alone? It is different for everyone; but if someone finds that inspiration – that passion – they might just be nigh unstoppable! So for those who may not have guessed yet, it is time to look back on one of this past season’s most popular anime: Yuri!!! On ICE! So lace up your skates and hit the ice – we were born to make history!

Yuri on ice Yuri

At its core, Yuri!!! On ICE is a sports anime focusing on characters within the competitive world of figure skating. Our main protagonist, Yuri Katsuki, is a star figure skater from Japan; yet after suffering numerous sequential losses decides to take some time off and return to his home town – essentially putting his skating career on hold for the time being. He doesn’t quit skating by any means and even goes so far as to flawlessly skate a replica short program of his long time idol (and Russian five time gold medal champion) Victor Nikiforov. As all best plans tend to go, however, a video of his performance is uploaded online and none other than Victor himself views the video and in a fit of inspiration, flies out to Japan to coach Yuri for the upcoming season. Naturally, Victor leaving the competitive skating scene to coach was shocking to most of the skating world. His own coach told him of his foolishness and not to speak to him unless he planned to make his return; and then to complicate things further, Yuri Plisetsky steps onto the scene, a 15 year old Russian figure skater of extreme talent who not only wishes to bring Victor back to Russia for his return to skating but also so he can choreograph his own program for his senior debut. Here begins the journey and relationship of coach and student as well as a friendly but serious rivalry between some of the best skaters across the globe.

Yuri on ice victor yuri yurio

As sports anime go, oftentimes they rely heavily on a team aspect: how the team works together, grows together, and ultimately overcomes challenges and wins together. They feed off of each other’s strengths and weaknesses and adapt and overcome to each and every challenge. However, figure skating is not a team sport in the generic sense. When a skater is on the ice, they are alone. They are accountable for their own skill, their own music, their own choreography, their own techniques, their own difficulty – and they are scored appropriately at the end of each sequence. Their coaches may train them and offer advice before and after the performance and their opponents may cheer them on or diminish hope while they take to the ice; but while they perform, they take up the spotlight in solitude. Each competition is made up of a short program and a free skate and the combined scores of the two are what dictate the final outcome in which skaters advance to the next competition of the Grand Prix World Finals.

From the figure skating side of it, Yuri!!! On ICE did an excellent job of portraying the art, intrigue and stress of competition. Much like watching any figure skating competition live, it made you anxious to see if each skater was truly going to land each and every jump they had planned in their program, how they would recover if they didn’t, or if they planned to change things up to add or remove difficulty. It was intense, beautiful and quite true to life – especially watching Russian Yuri’s performances throughout the series (which if you have ever followed figure skating, Russia has always had incredibly talented skaters). Listening to the skater’s inner monologues as they skated truly added a depth not only to their character but also to their overall performance as you could see the impact of their thoughts almost instantly. A focused inner determination reflected strongly on the ice, and alternatively a distracted or dismal outlook often lead swiftly to missteps and mistakes. This was not only true for the main cast, but also the opponent skaters: learning that Chris has always found motivation looking towards Victor as an opponent to surpass, Michele and his feelings towards his sister and even JJ and his near overwhelming vanity and overconfidence. These discoveries from one performance to the next gave insight that time did not allow for off of the ice and almost made it feel like the characters had more screen time then they actually did. It certainly made the best of what could have simply been a lackluster situation.

Yuri on ice medals

The less than stellar situation mentioned is that the series covers numerous competitions leading up to the Grand Prix Finals, and as such many of the skaters that make it to the finals only use the same two programs the entire time. Guess what that means? Viewers get to watch the same skating routines multiple times over throughout the series! Granted, it is the same routine and the same music, but they do miss jumps, change things up or add difficulty here and there. It can get somewhat repetitive, but as mentioned before, this is where we get to see the inner workings of the characters: what drives them, what tears them down, and what truly makes it all worth it. It isn’t all for naught and after all, it is an anime about figure skating – it only makes sense that a majority of the series takes part on or around the ice, right?

Story wise, it has a basic premise with many underlying stories within. The main goal, of course, being Victor coaching Yuri to a gold medal at the Grand Prix Finals. Alongside this, and also what has gained this anime much of its audience, is the relationship that subtly develops between Victor and Yuri as they travel along this path to victory. Russian Yuri, or Yurio as he is nicknamed fairly early on, also plays a huge part in the story not only in his own regard of becoming a top figure skater but also in motivating Yuri to skate better. He also lends a hand into Victor’s drama of either remaining Yuri’s coach or returning to Russia and competitive figure skating for another season. That does not even include all of the other side characters that the three of them encounter and we gain insight to throughout the 12 episode series.

Yuri on ice skaters

Yuri!!! On ICE is an interesting anime not only in what it openly shows but in what it quietly mentions as well. It is not a show that bluntly says everything that it wants to say, but rather lets viewers take from it what they will if they care to look into its depths. On the forefront it is a mostly light-hearted, cute and competitive sports anime showcasing a unique cast of characters that all shine in their own light. It draws the audience in easily and leaves them wanting more from each episode to the next all the way to its finale where it merely teases a potential season two. However, those that look deeper may find there is more lying just beneath the surface. They will see Yuri’s anxiety strike him down quite often: his doubts in himself, his fears of failing Victor, and so much more. Victor also has his own issues stemming from always being the center of attention yet finally finding something, or someone, else to focus his time on – yet he doesn’t quite know what he should be doing; he threatens to leave but he wants to stay. We never really find out much about Victor but it is hard not to like him – even if it is infuriating at times. Even their relationship, which according to the creator occurs in a time where there is no prejudice, is very subtle. A point that has many viewers mixed on if it should have been a bigger focus or not. They complement each other and grow together; and really, does there have to be anything more to it? Perhaps a second season will make many of the more personal aspects of the show more concrete; but for the short time span allotted in the series, it really did accomplish a good deal and ultimately maintained its focus on the sport and goal at hand.

Yuri on ice Victor Yuri

In the animation and sound department, the anime holds its own fairly decently. The OP History Maker by Dean Fujioka is a powerful opener that seems to fit the series more and more as each episode goes on. The ED as well as all individual performance music within the series are also wonderfully done; with each of the skating pieces truly bringing out the colors of the skater that chose them. The art style is beautiful for a majority of the anime as well with a few humorously placed chibi scenes just to mix things up. However, there is some downfall to be had within the repetitive performance skate sections where character detail takes a hit in places and scenes are simply reused. It certainly doesn’t mar the anime as a whole, but it is noticeable enough to warrant mention.

Overall, Yuri!!! On ICE is an enjoyable anime to watch from start to finish, even with its flaws. It is far from perfect in any regard and no matter where you look there can be some critique to be found, but there was never a moment that I didn’t want it to continue. Whether you have any personal experience skating, watching competitions or have never even given thought to the sport before, it has a certain charm that can pull most anyone in. While it is primarily a male cast, that shouldn’t be a factor in pushing anyone away. If so, you might just be missing out on one of the most delightful, comedic, fiercely competitive and inspiring experiences to come about recently.

Yuri on ice Yurio

 

(My review was originally posted on Realm of Gaming…which seems to no longer exist. Here it shall live on!)

Magical Eyes Title

If you pull the trigger of a gun, knowing full well what it is capable of, that is one thing; pulling the trigger when you do not know what will happen is something of a different nature. Does that make the one who does not realize what they are doing more or less guilty than the one who fully understands? It may be hard to discern between the two at times, but the end result is always the same. The past can never be undone.

When people hear the word “Visual Novel” many will immediately picture an anime style text based game usually falling under the Otome category (Otome translating to “maiden game” and usually being a harem romance themed game targeted towards females). However, this is far from the case as visual novels have greatly expanded their reach both in theme and audience. Magical Eyes – Red is for Anguish, developed by Pomera Studios, is but one such example that explores a much darker, mystery atmosphere more than anything else.

Red is for Anguish is but chapter one of a series of games to be released involving confounding crimes and incidents that occur within a particular town. Despite a significantly growing crime rate made up of smaller misdemeanors, the townsfolk remain mostly unaware of what is occurring around them on a daily basis.  However, one particularly violent crime has caught the attention of not only the police, but also of a group known as the Disobeyers. This group works covertly and from an outside viewpoint, all of its members appear just like any other citizen. However, those that know these individuals or perchance see them engaged in combat will notice they are anything but normal: psychic abilities, incredible combat prowess or even an impenetrable armored skeleton make up but a few of the abilities these talented individuals hold. These skills are not used for taking down mere inconveniences or petty thieves, but rather against something almost beyond human recognition – Variants. These variants are superhuman in their own right and will take a human or material vessel to exact their goals; oftentimes being born from an extreme outpouring of emotions such as a death of a loved one or extreme life change.

Magical Eyes Doll

The crime that starts it all involved a simple shop owner who specialized in random knick-knacks and trinkets. After a brutal attack that lost him an arm and left his shop torn to pieces, the only statement he gave police was that a Japanese doll in a kimono was behind everything. Likely the ramblings of a man still in shock over a traumatic experience – or so thought the police. However, there are those who could see the truth in his words…even if it was not the whole truth, and they knew a serious case was on their hands.

The visual novel involves numerous characters but the player will mostly see the story through the eyes of Yuu, a high schooler and elite member of the Disobeyers, and Chiharu, a classmate and close friend of Yuu. Although they make up two very different perspectives of the story, it grants an interesting view of both the business and personal side of all characters involved. From Pops, the disastrously horrific cook of a ramen shop called Noodle Graveyard (which also doubles as the headquarters of the local Disobeyers) to Yuu’s coworkers and younger siblings who each have their own unique sparkle and personality, there is never a sense of dread or boredom when certain characters take the spotlight.

Magical Eyes Mains

Unlike many visual novels that rely heavily on player choice to move the story in a certain direction, Red is for Anguish is more static. All players will reach the same end one way or another but hold the possibility of additional scenes and unlockables by excelling at a small quiz like section called Reasoning Mode. Gaining a perfect S-Rank score during each questioning period will not only help Yuu gain understanding of all the information he has discovered on the case but also serve as a way to show how much the player has paid attention to the story so far.

Without risking revealing too much, the story is really quite well done and has a good balance of mystery, suspense, action and humor to top it all off. In addition to that, the anime style artwork is truly exceptional and the soundtrack accompanying the game moves with the story with cinematic excellence. One aspect that I found particularly well done was the combat sequences – they were thrilling! The music swelled with the action; the words had an air of urgency, acceptance and even fear; and the characters and scenery changed every few screens really demonstrating what was occurring – for a visual novel made up of static images, it made it exceptionally easy to almost picture the excitement happening in live action.

Magical Eyes Fight

Of course, Red is for Anguish did have some flaws; but overall they were fairly minor and did not detract from the overall experience. The writing was very good, albeit with some oddly placed humor at times, but there were a few detractors present mostly in the visual aspect of the words: one was that as scenes would change mid text, all text would disappear and reappear on the screen often adding additional lines which would cause me to re-read things I had already taken in; second was the symbol chosen to indicate the end of a text break – a small animated flower which constantly reminded me of a loading symbol you might find downloading something on a phone or a webpage. It might not sound like much but it was enough to deter my attention for seconds at a time throughout and was something I never did get used to. The only other issue I found was buried in another very strong quality of the game: the music. As I mentioned earlier, the music is phenomenal, but at times would almost carry on its theme just a bit too long and when it stopped fitting the mood of the text it would pull me away from the immersion. Even with these small issues, every other aspect of the game makes up for it in stride.

While the story takes place over the course of a week, the game only takes around 4-5 hours to complete on average. It is a supernatural mystery that will pull you into its clutches until its finale…and even then leave you wanting more. The second chapter, Indigo Blue Heaven, is still in development but surely already has plenty of fans eagerly awaiting its release. Available on Steam, it is well worth spending some time delving into the lives and mysteries of those who Disobey what ordinary humans can only attempt to rationalize.

 

(My review was originally posted on Realm of Gaming…which seems to no longer exist. Here it shall live on!)

inside title

Why are you alone in the dark, little boy? Don’t you know it is dangerous out here? You could be hunted, killed! Those dogs will feel no guilt as they tear your throat to pieces; no remorse will those masked men feel as they gun you down. What is your purpose in this quest? What could possibly be so important that you must risk life and limb? …Do you even know?

A few years back, a young boy went through monochromatic Hell and high water to rescue his sister in 2D puzzle game Limbo; now that very same developer, Playdead, is back with a vengeance making gamers experience a whole new realm of horror in their recently released 2.5D puzzle-platformer Inside.

As a quick side note, this review will have minimal to no spoilers; however, let me say two things before continuing on: One, go and play this game (it is currently available on PS4, XB1, PC and iOS). Two, if you can go into this game with little to no prior knowledge, do so – the experience of discovery amplifies everything this game has to offer and you will not be disappointed.  For those of you still here, let us continue onward ~

For those that experienced Limbo, Inside will welcome you back with its grisly embrace through a basic familiarity in environment and control scheme. A grim, grayscale landscape (save for a few acute splotches of red – one being a piece of the main characters attire) is all that will be in view for the entirety of the game – so let your eyes adjust accordingly. As the title screen barely finishes loading, a boy will emerge from the side to begin the adventure. Aside from that initial intro, there are no loading screens to be found throughout the game, period. Darkened forests, shadow filled cornfields, decayed corpses and a factory of horrors both submerged and otherwise await the player as they traverse inside the 3-4 hour game.

inside bodies

The controls are simple, whether you prefer controller (my recommended) or keyboard input scheme. The character will move to the right and left and occasionally climb up or fall to the depths below (of course, the underwater segments will conveniently provide use of all directions). In addition to basic movement, the character can jump on top of objects or across chasms as well as interact with certain items via activating buttons, pressing switches, and dragging things. It is a simple design that gives the player everything they need to solve all puzzles and survive every encounter…though many times it will not be during the first attempt.

Much akin to Limbo, Inside falls into a style of game play categorized as “trial and death”. You will encounter a challenge, you will likely die, and you will learn how to survive on your next attempt. It is an excellent mannerism for a puzzle game in that it provides a challenge and some amount of brain activity to succeed but it never reaches a level of frustration or getting ultimately stuck at any given point.

Speaking of dying, the wide array of death scenes and possibilities in the game range from shocking to humorous to absolutely horrifying! Walking off a ledge and getting impaled on a spike is probably something you should have seen coming (I know that I grinned after falling into at least one of classic video game’s favorite death traps); however, tripping over a broken limb, getting caught by a masked guard and watching the boy get held under water until he breathed his last was probably more along the lines of something that will hauntingly stay with me for the rest of my days. As mentioned earlier though, the deaths are merely learning utensils. I can almost guarantee that you will never make the same mistake twice and the checkpoints are quite generous so that you will never have to repeat more than you absolutely have to.

inside spotlight

The puzzles themselves also never get repetitive. They always introduce an object that will need to be interacted with and then leave everything to the player to figure out how to use it and accomplish the goal. Although many of the same designs are used throughout, they add their own unique twist in getting things where they need to. Perhaps you once placed a box on a switch to open a door; well, the next time you might just have to utilize reanimated humanoids via a mind control helmet to not only place weight upon a switch but also to carry you over a treacherous chasm. As the game progresses, puzzles will even take on a healthy dose of physics prowess adding gravity, water, and other elements that will challenge what you are actually seeing on screen. You have all the tools at your disposal, how will you use them? Other puzzles may not give as much time for careful thought out planning, though: highly aggressive dogs and other creatures will chase you down (spoiler alert: they are always faster than you) and you will have to outwit them in order to gain the advantage and maneuver to safety.

In addition to the great playstyle, the atmosphere, ambiance and story of Inside is truly astounding unto itself. Small exquisite details can be found in every scene from dust particles glistening around old factory equipment to leaves billowing in the breeze to facility workers going about their jobs. A fully animated background and foreground envelop the player as they move throughout the game and don’t think for a minute that you are safe from what lies within those boundaries. Even the detail of how the boy reacts and moves brings a certain lifelike quality: the slight stumble after running and jumping off of a ledge, heavy breathing after an intense sprint, struggling for air while underwater for too long and it all builds up to the white-knuckled/forget to breathe exhilaration that accompanies so much of the game. It is an overwhelming sense of foreboding and not knowing what lies through the next door and it often takes until that next area is reached to realize just how tight the game’s hold had been on you.

inside witch

The story is dark, confusing, horrifying and simply drenched in the unknown. All the while, not one single line of text, nor word spoken, will you find in this game (save for the end credits and opening Title). Much like their previous work, the story is left up to interpretation – and honestly, it is perfect that way. In the few short weeks it has been released, there are numerous theories abound on what Inside truly means – both in regards to the regular ending and the secret ending. It is a presentation of themes taking cues from a mix of dystopian science fiction and horror that will leave you with far too much to consider long after the credits have finished.

Come experience what lies inside. Are you afraid of what you might find?

Good. You should be.

 

(My review was originally posted on Realm of Gaming…which seems to no longer exist. Here it shall live on!)

Neptunia Animation

“My confidence, you ask…? It’s obviously ’cause I’m the main character!” ~ Neptune

Have you ever been strolling along, peacefully minding your own business and enjoying the golden rays on a sunny afternoon when suddenly an oh-so-fearsome herd of small blue orbs of dogoo pounce and lick you senseless? How obnoxious, am I right? To most, this is probably a scene out of some whimsical fantasy scenario; but for the citizens of Gamindustry, it is but a way of life. Luckily for them, each of the four main cities of Gamindustry is ruled by a goddess who watches over and protects her citizens and country with all her might. With the scene almost set, let’s take a moment to explore a light-hearted anime by the same name of the popular game series it spawned from: Hyperdimension Neptunia: The Animation.

Neptunia Goddesses

For those unfamiliar with the game series, Hyperdimension Neptunia is based in the world of video games and the gaming industry. Each of the four ruling nations of Gamindustry have distinct qualities mimicking four of the main gaming console brands: Microsoft, Nintendo, Sony and Sega. Playing off that theme, each of the ruling goddesses (and their little sisters) of each kingdom have a somewhat likeness to the consoles they create: Neptune and her sister Nepgear hail from Planeptune and usually take the leading role; from Lastation reigns Noire and her sister Uni; Lowee is watched over by Blanc and her twin sisters Rom and Ram; and finally, from Leanbox is Vert. To aid in their ruling, the goddesses gain their power from shares given from their citizens – these fluctuate with how the people view their leaders and their support or negativity towards them has quite the significant impact. Each of the goddesses has their normal form but can also transform into a super powerful CPU state in which they use their shares to gain unprecedented power to protect their country from various monsters and wrong doings. Of course, since the shares are not entirely limited per country it makes the goddesses friendly rivals in most aspects. Let the games commence!

Neptunia CPUs

Hyperdimension Neptunia: The Animation is a silly, fun and action packed anime that may not rate highest among the charts of things to watch, but would be a shame to miss out on completely (especially if there is appreciation had for both gaming and anime)! The plot of the anime itself plays off of many of the story elements found in the games – but not an exact replica. This makes it both new and reminiscent for those familiar with the games but also won’t leave newcomers completely lost either. The story primarily focuses on the goddesses, their sisters and friends as they work together and compete against one another ruling their countries and fighting against those trying to take down the game industry through various methods whether that be kidnapping, hacking or other gaming related downfalls.

One of the things that truly makes this anime endearing is its ability to pull from so many gaming sources for humor as well as not take itself too seriously. Watching the characters visit a theme park chock full of distinctly Nintendo related items (playing in pipes from Super Mario, collecting coins and bouncing on mushrooms) to battling hackers (you know, remember that time PSN got hacked…or how servers go down nearly every holiday season for some reason or another) to releasing new technology a la Microsoft’s Kinect. There are even a few episodes in which the goddesses visit R-18 Island (adult content only, ooh la la) to investigate some nefarious deed or other. Let’s add in plenty of suggestive humor as well as some fourth wall breaking interludes and it simply makes for a fun time.

Neptunia Group

That isn’t to say there isn’t a fair share of drama to the series, but it never gets too terribly deep or heart-wrenching. The characters are adorable and simply exude unique personality and their interactions are a delight. The combat scenes are well done and display a good range of how the characters perform in the games as well. You may never feel the emotional attachment to any of them that other series will work hard to build, but in its own way it works out perfect.

Hyperdimension Neptunia is a series that will surely entertain – especially for those with interest in the gaming industry on any level. From the hyperactive music accompanying each episode to the humor that quite nearly makes up its entire being, it is simply an amusing series from start to finish to kick back with after a long week of work, school and other daily activities. So give it a shot! If you like it, just think – there are at least eight or so games in the series made up of the same craziness but with even more combat action!

 

(My review was originally posted on Realm of Gaming…which seems to no longer exist. Here it shall live on!)

hack sign

“Take me back to the land, where my yearnings were born. The key to open the door is in your hand now take me there. To the land of Twilight.” – Yuki Kajiura.

The world of massive multiplayer online role playing games, or MMORPGs, is a vast place of wonder, intrigue, friendship, hardship and an altered reality that allows someone to become anything they could ever dream. For many, this alternate world becomes a refuge from the stress and struggles of everyday life; where perhaps for just a few hours, the only thing that matters is slaying that last boss and obtaining legendary treasures with a few close comrades while the troubles of work, school and home fall to the way side. It can become an excellent form of escapism but it also bears the risk of forgetting which world is truly the reality in which one truly lives in. Is it worth it?

hack characters

Venture with me into The World, the landscape for the MMO setting that surrounds the anime .hack//SIGN which explores tones of that exact premise. As Tsukasa, a Wave Master, awakens within a darkened cave in The World he has no recollection of how he ended up there. After a quick meeting with a friendly sword-wielding girl named Mimiru, he teleports himself back to town without a word only to find out he cannot log out and is trapped within the game indefinitely. Character death only leads him to respawn within The World and while Tsukasa only seems to find further mysteries surrounding him, he forgoes all help from those he meets and decides to seclude himself from others as much as humanly possible.

Despite Tsukasa’s bleak demeanor and frustrating attitude, it does little to deter the other characters within the series from getting involved in his predicament and trying to help in any way they can – both in and out of game. In addition to his unique dilemma of not being able to log out of the game (a problem that solely affects him, no other players are affected), he also has involvement with an unidentified player character and a guardian force of indescribable power which bring a great deal of unwanted attention to him from both helpful and harmful forces. Throw in some rumors and leads towards a mysterious item of power called the Key of Twilight and it is hard to know where to even begin unraveling what mysteries The World holds within its depths.

hack guardian

.hack//SIGN is but one part of the larger .hack series and is but a small section of the overall encompassing story told throughout all of its parts spread throughout anime, manga, novels and games. Originally airing back in 2002, this series was in the forefront of the “trapped in a MMO” genre that has become so popular in more recent years – though keep in mind, even if this is a beloved genre, there are a few things to consider before jumping headfirst into this one. Let’s get started!

First off, this is a slow-paced anime based primarily on character development. That being said, don’t expect it to be chock full of action packed battles, flashy fight scenes or fan-service – you will be sorely disappointed. There are some battles, but a majority of the story progression is given through dialogue between characters as they meet up in varying locations throughout The World. This results in a very deep story and a true feeling of getting to know the ins and outs of the various unique characters throughout the series; however it comes at the cost of forcing viewers to withstand painfully slow pacing through the span of its 26 episodes. It is a tough anime to really get into as it takes until about halfway through the season for the story to really catch on, but it holds some merit if you can hold out long enough.

hack trapped

Aesthetically, the animation and soundtrack hold their own quite well and even represent some of this anime’s finer qualities. The art style displays the fantastical MMO world beautifully and the characters are all uniquely designed and colorful. While the action and animation may have its flaws at times it is not the true focus and can usually be forgiven. Another aspect that was displayed wonderfully was the drastic difference in art style between that within The World and that of the real world. The vibrant colors and life found within the game is rich and full while scenes of the real world are often depicted via static black and white images and words flashing across the screen. It helps depict the theme of escaping a bleak reality for a vibrant virtual one that much more impactful. One of the best aspects of this anime in my opinion is the soundtrack, hands down. Yuki Kajiura is absolutely fantastic and her tracks bring out so much emotion, intrigue and imagination that the anime simply exudes life just hearing her songs filter in throughout the episodes.

Overall, .hack//SIGN is an anime that you will either love or hate. It is slow paced and lacking action but has a truly deep story for those that can give it time to show itself. Having additional knowledge of the .hack universe or a willingness to seek it out will also help further understanding of the overall story and characters involved – after all, this is but one anime and one part of the entire series so know going in that not everything is going to be fully explained. So step into The World and witness one of the first stories that trapped a player inside of their beloved game.

(My review was originally posted on Realm of Gaming…which seems to no longer exist. Here it shall live on!)

ffx title

“Listen to my story. This may be our last chance.”

A city dead for a thousand years. A small group of forlorn travelers sit just within its borders around a campfire, their weapons stacked neatly off to the side as if trying to forget – for just a moment – the last leg of the harrowing journey that awaits them. A soft, beautifully haunting piano melody gently threads itself into the hearts of all those who may happen to hear it. This was the first moment players witnessed as they stepped into the world of Spira all those years ago – and it is the first moment that greets them as they now return once again. With an evident amount of effort and care put into the remastered release, it is time to re-explore one of Square-Enix’s strongest entries into their long running series of beloved games ~

ffx tidus yuna

Before diving into the unique qualities each game brings, let’s take a look at what makes this version a worthy addition to any Final Fantasy fan’s collection (even for those, like myself, who still own and could easily dust off the original PS2 games for replay). First-off, this is a game made for newer gen consoles: PS Vita, PS3, and PS4 (actually, it is also available on PC as well now). The stronger capabilities of these systems truly showcase the graphic and audio overhauls put into the game – character facial features, backgrounds, NPCs, and monsters all appear much more vibrant and alive and textures have been enhanced as a whole. While I cannot speak for the PC port, the PS4 version certainly shows off the work put into it masterfully and would be my recommendation! Outside of what the games look like, this is also the first time NA gamers are given the chance to play through the International version of the games. For those who may not be aware, this adds quite a bit of additional content to the games: an expert version of the sphere grid, Dark Aeons, extra mega-bosses to unlock and kill, the short movie Eternal Calm (which bridges the gap between the two games), additional dress spheres, Creature Creator, Field Arena Tournaments as well as the Last Mission (which ties up the finale of the second game). If you were anything like me originally playing these games, by the time all side quests, weapons and extras were finished the final bosses of the story simply went down by you showing up to the party; so let me say that the additional content adds a very welcome challenge! For example, when accidently running into a Dark Aeon in FFX ends up with your party completely annihilated in one hit by a 999k attack, you realize you finally have something worth leveling up for!

ffx group

Final Fantasy X was the first of the series released on the PS2 and it followed in the heavy footprints of some of the series most beloved games: FFVII, FFVIII, and FFIX. Even despite that pressure, FFX managed to weave together a heart-wrenching story filled with twists and turns and characters that could be all too relatable. Seen through the outsider Tidus’ point of view, his monologues told a unique perspective and his optimism and determination were hard to hate, even despite his cluelessness. Each character was so unique harboring their own strengths, weaknesses and beliefs and it showed how each one of them grew as the journey continued; as beliefs were questioned, rights abolished and even entire religions shattered. It is a story filled both with tragedy and laughter and is some of the best storytelling to be found.

Gameplay wise, FFX maintained its JRPG heart in a turn-based combat system. While simple at first, it definitely rewards those with a strategic mind later on using advantageous turns, character switching on the fly and a plethora of abilities and attacks between them all to finish off whatever monstrosity the party is up against. Outside of combat, the game is quite linear for about 90% of it and involves talking to people, obtaining quests and items and moving to the next area to further the story along. It does a very good job of never getting the player stuck during the linear part of the game so long as they do not run away from every battle presented to them; even if a tough boss does gives trouble, the ability to backtrack to an area with monsters to grind on for a bit is usually close by. It is a very well balanced system that negates frustration and leaves the level of difficulty up to the player. Of course, there is always plenty of exploration and mini games to do as well (hello, Blitzball!) which now have trophies associated with them for a little extra motivation.

ffx yrp

Final Fantasy X-2 was one of the first direct sequels put out for a Final Fantasy game and while it held plenty of merit, it did receive its fair share of harsh praise as well. Taking place after the first game, players take control of the new and improved Yuna as she and her girl squad (consisting of the ever-so-peppy Rikku and tough-exterior Payne) run around Spira as Sphere Hunters and look for clues about Tidus’ whereabouts. The entire feel of the game is quite different from its predecessor – the somber, in depth story of FFX is no longer present and is instead replaced with a light-hearted, mostly non-serious gallivant around Spira. Don’t get me wrong, I love it and it is a fun, faster-paced game, but the two really cannot be compared in the story department. FFX-2 has it moments of seriousness as they discover a tragic past of two characters remarkably similar to Tidus and Yuna and the story unfolds itself from there, but for the most part it is simply a much lighter story to take in. It is interesting to see how Spira changed after the events of FFX and how people have both divided and come together since then; and of course meeting familiar faces is always fun!

Gameplay wise, FFX-2 also changed things up with ditching the conditional turn-based system and adding in a faster active time battle system. While this might take away some strategic calculations, it allows the characters (and enemies) to act swiftly in executing attacks, switching gears and even interrupting enemy actions. Based off of a time bar, it moves battles along quite swiftly and lets players really think on their feet. The addition of dress spheres and the garment grid system is also quite fun in that each of the three main characters can change their job class on a whim in or out of battle and learn to use skills the longer they use that class. Not only is it fun to see the girls change into their own variant style of dress sphere costume but they are all quite useful by themselves and in combination.

ffx rikku battle

All in all, both games are solid entries into the franchise in story, combat and overall enjoyment. Granted, even playing the remastered edition there is truly no denying that this was once a PS2 game. The controls still have their wonky moments (and forget about using the right joystick to move the camera around) and even though the graphics are greatly improved it still isn’t anything you could compare to what has recently come out on current gen. It is in no way a bad thing though! I want to play the games as they were originally intended – but of course, additional content and a bit of a makeover certainly doesn’t hurt – but it wouldn’t be the same if they completely remade the game, which is why a remastered version is perfect. Being able to listen to a remastered version of the soundtrack on my playthrough was a wonderful addition that didn’t have to be there, but it only made it that much more enchanting as I went through each new area once again.

Whether you 100% the PS2 versions when they originally came out or if you have never even looked at the series before, this is a game that is worth playing. Even I had held off picking this one up because of how much I had played the originals…and I cannot even describe the feelings I got as soon as the opening scenes began and as I replayed through the journey. Every aspect of both of these games – the good and bad – simply culminate into an unforgettable experience. An experience worth revisiting. An experience worth having for the first time.

 

(My review was originally posted on Realm of Gaming 01/29/2017…which seems to no longer exist. Here it shall live on!)

AssClass Title

Well, there is no better way to say it: the school year isn’t shaping up to be the most normal. It all started when an extremely powerful alien-octopus creature blew a hole through 70% of the moon leaving it forever in the shape of a crescent. The Earth is the next target, however, the creature offered up something of a deal: he will teach class 3-E (aka the End-Class) at the prestigious Kunugigaoka junior high school until the end of the school year; the students of 3-E have one year to assassinate their teacher, take the 10 billion yen reward and save the Earth from total destruction. Keeping up a normal study schedule for regular subjects is tough enough without adding in time for assassination training – welcome to Assassination Classroom!

The anthropomorphic octopus teacher, who the students oh so aptly name Koro-Sensei (a term born from the words korosenai meaning unkillable and sensei meaning teacher), is top secret to all but those who need to know – those being the Japanese government, the principle of the school and the students of 3-E (even other teachers and students in the school remain unaware). While it may seem insane to place such a powerfully dangerous creature in front of mere students, Koro-Sensei is not only true to his word to not destroy the planet until March but is quite an adept teacher in all subjects and does nothing but look out for his students (even as they attempt to kill him quite frequently). Additionally, the only weapons that actually land any severe damage on Koro-Sensei are completely harmless to humans: rubber knives and bullets to be precise. Unfortunately, Koro-Sensei has numerous tricks up his sleeve which makes actually killing him nearly impossible. He can travel up to speeds of Mach20, can regenerate lost limbs, can change forms, and is quite arrogant and smart as to various assassination techniques. If nothing else, it will certainly make for an interesting year!

AssClass Korosensei

The reason class 3-E was chosen to be the assassination classroom was mostly in part due to the infrastructure of the school itself as meticulously seen to by Principle Gakuhou Asano. His ideal is that having a class of low ranking flunkies, rebels and misfits would stand as a dismal example to the rest of the student body and motivate them to work harder so as to not join the ranks of the End-Class. Even their school house is separated a great distance away from the main campus to further alienate the class from the rest of the student body. All in all, the principle assumed that allowing Koro-Sensei to teach that class would not only keep him out of sight but also have minimal impact on the overall state of the school. Or so he thought! Never could he have anticipated the dedication Koro-Sensei would have towards improving his student’s grades, hobbies and overall self-worth even while actively dodging assassination attempts almost daily. These were students that were conditioned to think themselves failures for dropping from the higher ranks only to suddenly gain a newfound confidence and motivation to excel both in studies and in combat training.

AssClass Kill

Assassination Classroom offers viewers a fantastical, comedic school life anime with a twist. It isn’t every day that a tentacle shapeshifting creature becomes a teacher – and quite an impressive one at that – and his students are given a mission to eliminate him by years end. Despite having a fairly large cast, a majority of them become more than just nameless, faceless side characters used to fill classroom seats. Of course, there are certain students and teachers that stand out far more than others such as the androgynous, ever-observing Nagisa, the talented rebel Karma, the beautiful blonde assassin-turned-teacher Irina, government agent Mr. Karasuma and of course Koro-sensei; but even then, the other students of 3-E become easily recognizable after a few episodes and their own unique traits are made reference to and shine brightly. Really, all members of 3-E stand out in their own ways and never simply become part of the background only. Watching both the teachers and students interact and bond together throughout the series in order to kill Koro-Sensei while gaining the best school experience is truly enjoyable through and through.

AssClass Math

Aesthetically, the art and animation is wonderful to look at from start to finish. Vibrant and unique colors adorn each character and landscape and even the ever changing and moving Koro-Sensei never loses a detail. Whether it is a conversation-heavy scene or an action packed combat escapade, the animation is quite well done in all aspects. The soundtrack that accompanies each episode is also fantastic and there is not likely an OP or ED song that will not grow on viewers. Even the voice acting is superb despite the large cast and many of the voices stand out and remain unique and recognizable throughout (personally, I watched this subbed; but in looking at the cast list, I have rarely ever been disappointed with the English voice actors named).

Overall, Assassination Classroom is a light-hearted, comedic, action series about a group of students attempting to kill their alien teacher before he destroys the world while learning valuable life lessons along the way. It will bring enjoyment and tug on heartstrings, as viewers bounce between wanting the students to succeed in killing Koro-Sensei and rooting for Koro-Sensei to survive based off of how amazing a teacher and mentor he is to his students. With a fun unique story, a diverse exciting cast, and excellent sound and animation, it is hard not to recommend this one.

 

(My review was originally posted on Realm of Gaming 02/22/2017…which seems to no longer exist. Here it shall live on!)