Sweet As Syrup: Jade Empire Special Edition Review

When it comes to things involving martial arts, I’m more of a fan in passing. I like the idea of Kung Fu or Karate, but I very rarely seek out martial arts films or the like. It probably doesn’t help that there doesn’t seem to be a huge demand in media for this kind of genre. This is especially true in the realm of videogames. It’s often hard to find a martial arts game that is truly entertaining. I remember that god awful Bruce Lee: Legend of The Dragon game, which was absolutely atrocious in terms of both gameplay and presentation.

For the longest time, I never thought I’d find a martial arts game that topped Kung Fu on the Nintendo Entertainment System, that is until I discovered a somewhat obscure title called Jade Empire. Out of all the titles Bioware has put out, this one is probably the least known of them all. Sure, it sold well and has a fair bit of fans, but most people nowadays forgot it existed. I want to bring this game a bit more attention, in case we finally get that remake we so desire. So, let’s read our nunchuks and do a backwards flip into Jade Empire: Special Edition!

Background Information

Jade Empire is an action RPG that originally came out in 2005 for the X-Box, and was later ported to PC, as well as other consoles. The version I’m going to be looking at today is the PC version. Jade Empire was Bioware’s first ever foray into the action genre, touting a combat system that was just short of a beat-em-up. Bioware made sure to pay careful attention to the lore of Asian countries, such as China and Japan. Bioware even invented its own Chinese-styled dialect just for the game.

Jade Empire proved to due well financially, prompting the developers to create a “Special Edition” version of the game. This version included a new playable character, some new items, and a few new side-quests here or there. The guys behind this project have gone on record saying that they want to revisit this game’s universe, though no sequels to the first game have ever been made.

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That awkward moment when you realize that the giant goat demon thing is actually a little girl. No, I’m serious.

Plot

Our story takes place in ancient China, in a small village. We take on the role of the young apprentice of Master Li, who is training our selected hero in various forms of martial arts. As it turns out though, you aren’t any normal apprentice. You are a Spirit Monk, a warrior who can wield unnatural and mystical forces, the likes of which most students can only dream of. One day, your village is attacked and everyone you have ever known is killed.

You set out on a journey to stop the various evil forces that plague the lands, as well as save your kidnapped master from the claws of the Lotus Assassins. You are joined by various allies along the way, including a mad inventor and a crafty thief. While the story starts out like typical martial arts fare, it quickly evolves into something more grandiose. It becomes a story that not only pays homage to martial arts films of the past, but also deconstructs certain elements of them.

Jade Empire’s is certainly nothing new or original, but it’s presented in such a way that it feels fresh. The characters that populate this world are well voice-acted and all have their own stories to tell. The allies you acquire work well off each other, giving this game some of the best character interactions I’ve seen in a mid-2000s RPG.

Not everything is sunshine and roses with the plot, however. Without spoiling too much, the last few chapters feel rushed. They aren’t as large as chapters 2 and 3, and are severely lacking in side content. On top of this, the two different moral alignments (Open Palm and Closed Fist) lose their nuances partway through. They go from being two opposing alignments with vague shades of grey, to being just “good” and evil”.

While I did thoroughly enjoy the story, I felt the plot fell off halfway through for me. It lost its nuance and ended with a cliche ending that overwrote your character’s alignment. Is it a terrible plot? Of course not! It’s probably one of the best plots that has ever been attached to a western RPG, at least in my opinion. I won’t lie in saying that it isn’t flawed, but I’ve seen Bioware games with endings that felt far more rushed.

Gameplay

It’s hard to discuss Jade Empire without comparing its combat to that of a fighting game, or beat-em-up. The game pits your character and one ally against various monsters and creatures, usually in a small location setup like an arena. Your character can perform various actions, including blocking, rolling, attacking, etc. Your character will often auto-target a single opponent, though you can always turn targeting off if you wish to smack groups of baddies at your leisure.

Combat is fast and dynamic, but not without its faults. For example, I felt that the forward flip move was way too overpowered. It’s a move that allows you to flip over an opponent’s head and smack them before they have time to turn around. It makes combat a joke, which is why I chose to only use it sparingly. What makes the combat in this game so special are the various combat styles you’ll acquire.

These can rang from summoning large rocks and spears of ice to toss at your opponent, to being able to transform into a giant toad demon. The large amount of styles always kept the combat from getting too boring for me. There was always a new style to experiment with, and this kept the combat varied. Certain styles are useless against certain enemies, so even the game itself enforces a varied play-style.

Combat takes place from the third person perspective, and puts you in the shoes of one of 6 (7, if you have the Special Edition) different characters. The characters themselves are very similar to one another, with the only differences being that each character has a slightly different focus. For example, one may have more chi or be a more balanced character. All 7 characters function more like classes than individual characters. They all follow the same plot, with only dialogue being different depending on the gender of the selected character.

While each character is essentially a blank slate, the allies they can acquire are not. These characters can range from a girl who can turn into a demon, a man who is proficient in the Drunken Master martial arts style, or just a big beefy man with two axes. Characters feel varied, and the way they can enhance both combat and gameplay give them even more variation. Not every ally acquired will be able to fight alongside you in combat, but most of them will provide a near endless supply of witty and entertaining banter.

The game’s main draw is its morality system. Instead of focusing on purely good and evil, it focuses on two different philosophies: Open Palm and Closed Fist. At first, these two alignments start as being two morally grey choices. While Open Palm and Closed Fist seem like your generic good and evil factions, there are hints in the game itself that it is not so. It ends up creating this unique feel of two factions that are neither good nor bad. As previous mentioned though, the game throws out this unique dynamic in the final chapters.

Despite this, these two factions can affect gameplay greatly. Certain styles and items can only be acquired if you pledge yourself fully to one side or another. This makes the game great for multiple breakthroughs, especially if you want to try those other styles out. On the subject of items, this game has a rather unique inventory system. Instead of being given different armor or weapons to equip, you are given a talisman instead. While journeying through this game, you will acquire many gems that can be slotted into this talisman. These gems will bestow many useful bonuses and stat increases onto your character.

I’m honestly on the fence about whether I like the talisman system or not. On one hand, it streamlines the complexities often associated with inventory systems in RPGs. On the other hand, it feels a little too simple. I felt less like some kind of mystical chosen one, and more like some kind of ancient warrior jeweler. I’m not used to inventories being stuffed with a single kind of item, it’s a bit off-putting. I guess that’s more a nitpick than anything else, but it still bothered me somewhat.

I felt that the gameplay was pretty entertaining, if a bit simple at times.  The game relied a bit too much on its action elements, which really need some refining. Its too easy to flip over an opponents back, or overpower them with some strange demonic form. Certain jewels felt a bit too powerful, especially due to the fact that you can them early on. On top of this, the game was a bit on the short side. I did most of the side quests, while at the same time beating the main story. Roughly, it took me about 19 hours to do most of the stuff the game had to offer. This is truly disappointing, as I found myself really getting involved in the world and its characters. Still, despite being short, it was a blast to play through!

Visual Stimuli

This game looks great for its time, but has not aged well. Character faces are not super expressive, and some cut-scenes can end up looking somewhat compressed on modern TVs. Voice-acting is stunning and features a variety of voice actors, all of which really help bring this world to life. The game also features a few celebrities voicing its cast, including Brian Doyle Murray! I was honestly surprised to hear his voice in this game, and it’s always a pleasure whenever he plays some over-the-top character in anything.

Voice acting is pretty great all around, but there are some sore spots here and there. For instance, any character who speaks in the game’s made-up Chinese language often use recycled lines. This makes it so it seems like the characters are saying the same three lines over and over again, despite the subtitles telling me otherwise. Its a not deal breaker, but it is very noticeable.

The graphics are fine and I found the game ran well on Windows 10, despite how old it was. Character designs are nice and varied, even if some of the side-characters look a bit generic. The background music in this game is fantastic! It really captures the feel of martial arts movies to a tee! The music always seems to fit whatever is going on in the game, and really adds a sense of majesty to its various events.

In Conclusion

Despite its somewhat dated visuals, its somewhat unbalanced combat, and its over-simplified inventory system, this game is still a lot of fun! This is definitely one of the best martial arts games ever made, I just wish they made more of them like this. The game expertly weaves the combat of beat-em-ups with that of an RPG, creating a truly mystical mixture.

Keep in mind though that this game has a weak ending, coupled with a disappointing second half. I still feel that this is a game that you can behind, despite how old it is. Just be warned that the game is still prone to crashing or not functioning well on modern PCs. If you track down the X-Box or X-Box 360 versions, I recommend playing those instead. With that, I can easily say that this game as sweet as syrup. It’s a game that manages to be both a good RPG, and a fun martial arts story. I haven’t played a game in the last 2 years that has made me smile as much as this has. That’s a feat that I can truly appreciate.

Bomberman Bakugaiden: An Obsure Gem?

The world of videogame to cartoon adaptations is wide, it spans a large range of shows of differing quality. Some shows may be amazing and some are outright forgettable. I think I may have stumbled across something truly unique though. It’s a show I find to be fairly entertaining, despite having very little to actually do with the game that it’s based on. I’m talking about Bomberman B-Daman Bakugaiden. For those of you who have no idea what I’m talking about, Bomberman was a popular videogame from the 80s that grew into a large franchise that spanned decades.

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Yes, THIS is from a Bomberman show. Just let that realization sink in.

Due to Bomberman’s popularity, an anime was inevitable. Most people remember the Bomberman Jetters anime, as that was more faithful to the source material while still being it’s own thing. However, Bakugaiden came out a few years before Jetters and even got a second season. One could argue that Bakugaiden was the more popular series. Bomberman Bakugaiden had a lot of trappings of Bomberman, but presented them differently. White Bomber was still the protagonist, while Black Bomber was his rival as always.

Planet Bomber is still a thing, yet White Bomberman is the prince of the planet. This is a far departure from the games, where White Bomber is just another denizen of said planet. In this version, no one throws bombers. Like, ever. It shouldn’t even be called Bomberman, it should be renamed “Erman”. Instead of throwing bombs, they shoot energy-charged marbles out of their chest. That is because this iteration of Bomberman is based off the B-Daman toys. B-Daman got its own anime eventually, which actually made it to America.

I think I prefer the Bomberman version though, just because it is slightly more zany and the characters I found to be more entertaining. Now, back to show itself, I found it to be really enjoyable. I think this comes down to how quirky and silly the characters are. You’ve got the adorable yet headstrong lady Red Bomber, the nervous and laidback Blue Bomber, as well as our hero White Bomber. The show has a ton of characters peppered throughout and all of them are as crazy as the next. The show also has some fun action sequences with giant robots, which is new for this franchise.

It’s weird to have a Bomberman series that centers around exciting mecha battles, but it feels like a welcome addition. After all, Bomberman tends to fight giant robots in the newer games, it’s understandable he finally gets to pilot one of his very own. In this version, the king of Planet Bomber (or “Earth” as the subtitles call it) is being mind-controlled by Dark Bomber. This means our heroes have to rally behind a singular cause in order to stop him.

Yeah, it’s basically Star Wars, but the show is somewhat aware of its derivative nature. This makes it enjoyable, despite its cliche nature. The one biggest flaw I’ve found with this series is the lack of subtitles for the series’ various episodes. About 2 percent of the show is subtitled, there’s 95 episodes that I haven’t been able to find correct subtitles for. It’s a shame, because I think it’s a cute and fun little show.

That’s just my two cents on the series though. I recommend checking out the few subtitled episodes on Youtube if you’re a Bomberman fan and interested in the series. It isn’t the most original series and differs greatly from the games, but manage to bring a lot of silly fun to the table. That’s something I can really get behind. Now, I just need to get around to play Super Bomberman R…

My Thoughts On The Mass Effect Series

Believe it or not, I’m a fan of Bioware RPGs. Sure, while the games they put out now tend to be watered down in terms of RPG mechanics, I can still find a fair bit of enjoyment in playing them. I’m not one of those hardcore fanboys who believe Bioware can do no wrong, I’m just a fan in passing who will play a Bioware game as long as it looks good to me. Another reason is that Bioware is a Canadian video-game company, and I always try to be supportive of companies that come from my home country.

While I do plan to review some of the Mass Effect games at some point, I wanted to talk about my experiences with the series. After all, Mass Effect: Andromeda is due out in a couple of days and it’s the third game in this venerable series. It’s hard to believe that it has been 10 years since the first game came out, and it’s even harder to believe that I’ve never really beaten it. Sure, I’ve sank several hours into the first game, but never really finished it.

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In space, nobody can hear you go Super Saiyan.

I’m trying to fix that now, as I recently started replaying Mass Effect 1. ME1 is a special kind of game, as it’s one of those rare action RPGs that strikes a good balance between accessibility and hardcore RPG elements. Please keep in mind that this came out in 2007, around the time when complex RPGs were on their way out. While it definitely lacked a fair amount of more hardcore RPG elements, the basis of what makes a good RPG was intact.

The game had some weird archaic design choices though, such as side-quests ending with giant blocks of text, or a really boring and cumbersome inventory system. Still, things like this still made for an interesting game. Mass Effect 1 told the story of Commander Shepherd and his quest to hunt down a rogue alien and defeat an army of metallic monstrosities known as the Geth.

After the success of ME1, came ME2. I remember getting this game sometime in 2011 and absolutely loving the hell out of it. Sure, it wasn’t as complex as ME1 was, but it was still entertaining. The story devolved into a series of side missions and several RPG elements were just chopped out for some reason. Regardless, Mass Effect 2 was still an absolute treat to play through.

Mass Effect 3 was a hit or miss game for me. I don’t think it’s a good game, nor do I think it’s a bad one. It’s just kind of middle of the road, it lacks gameplay nuance and a lot of characters are just kind of forgettable. I can forgive the ending, but things like how pointless the upgrade system felt are awful. Weapon upgrades almost never need to be used, I could go through the entire game with the same unchanged weapon and never really need to change things up.

The story never really grabbed me, but then again I haven’t really explored the lore all that much. I just felt it was a bit generic, feeling more just like a generic sci-fi story as opposed to the epic dramas of the past. Still, I feel Mass Effect 3 is worth checking out, as it does offer some fun scenarios and some cool looking gear to collect. It’s not as in-depth as the first game, or as polished as the second, but it’s still fun. And that was my thoughts on the Mass Effect trilogy. Brief, but I do plan to tackle these games more in-depth later. I hope you guys enjoy reaading this post and I wish you all a great day!

My Thoughts On Samurai Season 5 Episode 2

I don’t know why, but I felt like doing another journal post on Samurai Jack. I guess it’s just that the newest episode of the series is probably one of the most epic episode of anything I’ve ever seen on television. This episode somehow tops the last one, which was near perfection. It’s fantastic, truly a treat. So, what makes it so special? Unlike the original show, this episode establishes that this show won’t be episodic. It follows directly after the last one with some immense payoff.

Jack has to deal with some assassins, extremely skilled ones. Ones that aren’t what he’s used to, literally. Jack ends up sacrificing what little was left of his honor in order to win and survive. Jack has to fight against what he thinks are just robots, but finds out that his battle has just gotten more serious. Jack is pushed to the brink in this episode, and it’s really intense to watch. We always picture Samurai Jack as this near unbeatable warrior of justice.

However, in this episode Jack gets his butt kicked like never before. It’s one of the most intense beatdowns I’ve ever seen in anything animated and it’s a truly sight to behold. Few series can top themselves in such an immense way, yet Samurai Jack has done this an insane amount of times. This episode did so many amazing things and it’s just awesome.

Does this episode have problems? Yeah, it does here or there. For one thing, I felt like the whole “Jack having hallucinations” thing is starting to get played out. While there’s only one in this episode, I feel if each episode does this it might old. It doesn’t help that most of these hallucinations seem to repeat the same things, which is kind of annoying. The writing during these scenes is fantastic, even if most of these flashbacks seem to regurgitate the same statements.

That’s really a nitpick though. I couldn’t find too many flaws with it. It  was great that we got to see Aku again, Greg Baldwin does a fantastic job taking over for the late great Mako. Casting on this show was near perfection. I can’t help but sing the praises of this show. I feel that once I re-watch the season after its completely released, then I’ll probably start finding flaws with it like crazy. Am I blinded by nostalgia? Maybe a little, but I try to view everything with an open mind and not just nostalgia goggles. I think the real reason I like this so much is because it has everything I look for in an action show. I really want to see what it does next!

Sweet As Syrup: Slayers Season 1 Review

When it comes to anime, there are few that I’ve ever found legitimately funny. Sure, I’ll laugh at something like One Punch Man or Mob Psycho 100, but a lot of anime I’ve seen just aren’t that funny. However, there was another anime that I watched that managed to strike a good balance between both comedy and action. Not only that, but it managed to fill a fantasy setting with a wealth of crazy and memorable characters. I’m talking about the anime known as “Slayers”.

For those of you who have no clue what I’m talking about, let me explain. Slayers is a classic 90s anime that focuses on a fantasy universe, complete with swords and sorcery. This universe is populated by zany characters, all-powerful gods, and overpowered sorcerers. It’s a show that knows when to take itself seriously, and when to goof off. So, today I shall review the first season of Slayers. I hope you all enjoy it, and consider watching a season or 2!

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This is Gourry, the best character in the entire show. I mean, just look at that hair!

Background Information

Slayers is based off a light-novel that originally began publication in 1989. The series proved popular enough to gain an anime adaptation in 1995, which ended up becoming the first season of an ongoing saga. The anime proved well enough to get several films and even a few OVAs. The light novels continued going even after the anime ended and it proved to be an overall very popular series that ran for many years.

Plot and Setting

This series takes place in an unnamed fantasy world, full of monsters and magic. Unlike other series, the monsters are actually their own race of powerful beings that can wield their own special brand of magic called “Black Magic”. Certain characters in this universe (including our main character) can wield this dark magic, by calling directly upon the power of monsters. Other kinds of magic include: Holy, White, Shamanistic, and Chaos magic respectively.

The show itself revolves around our primary character: Lina Inverse. It’s hard to really call Lina a “hero”, as she often does things mostly for personal gain. In some episodes, she’ll cause more bad than good. Lina’s biggest draw is that she is emotionally unstable, yet she wields some of the most powerful spells in the entire realm. Lina will flip her lid at slightest insult to her chest-size, and wouldn’t hesitate to nuke a village because of it.

Despite this, Lina is usually the only one who can triumph over the big evil currently attacking the realm, which she always does. Now, our season 1 plot focuses on introducing our characters first. We are introduced to Lina Inverse, the forgetful swordsman Gourry, the powerful chimera Zelgadis, the justice-loving Amelia, along with the occasional guest character. These four are the main protagonists of season 1, who soon find themselves in a war against the forces of darkness.

The Red Priest known as Rezo is planning to awaken a powerful demon, which results in Lina and friends being pulled into a confrontation with him and the dark lord Shabranigdo. After that story arc, the show goes into silly filler adventures, before ending off with another battle against a different villain. Despite the show injecting itself with a lot of silly filler, it never really gets all that boring. The filler adventures often prove immensely entertaining, and allow for the supporting characters to get some screen-time.

The main plots themselves proved to be fairly entertaining, despite being somewhat formulaic fantasy stories. Still, the setup for these main plots can be fairly entertaining in themselves. While the story arcs for the first season of Slayers aren’t too unique in structure, that doesn’t stop them from being immensely enjoyable. Couple that with the absurd characters populated throughout this world, and you have a recipe for a truly enjoyable show.

Visual Stimuli

The show is a 90s anime, and as a result the animation has not aged well. There are parts that look fairly good for the time, but others that just look stiff and awkward by today’s standards. Action scenes seem to have much better animation though, which is a common trait among anime of this era. Characters are fairly well-designed and are varied in appearance. I actually enjoyed this a lot, as it managed to avoid having a near identical cast.

Monster designs are also pretty unique and interesting, especially due to how many strange creatures populate this world. One of the pros of using a fantasy world is being able to populate it with as many strange beings as you want, which this show takes full advantage of. The show will have our heroes fighting wolf-men one minute, to fighting giant fish with human limbs the next.

The voice acting is pretty good for the time, at least in my opinion. I’ve watched a bit of the Japanese version, but mostly focused on watching the English version. The reason for this is that I’m not a huge fan of reading subtitles, and also that I really enjoyed the English voice-acting. While it’s true that this show does have a few awkward voice-actors here or there, it still manages to bring a fairly solid voice-cast into play. Once the primary voice-cast was settled on, their voices were completely solidified in my head. The voices just matched the characters so perfectly that it became impossible to go back to the Japanese version!

The soundtrack for this show is pretty solid, it even has a really energetic and entertaining theme song. There are times where the music can feel a bit generic, but most of the time the soundtrack gets my blood pumping. While the soundtrack isn’t something I’d play in the background while doing stuff, it isn’t terrible either. Despite the somewhat formulaic soundtrack, the sometimes-awkward animation, and the occasional bad voice actor, I still thought the production values on this show were fantastic!

In Conclusion

Slayers is a series that mixes comedy and action very well, while at the same time giving us memorable and unique characters. While the first season lacks memorable villains, it’s still an enjoyable time. With great action scenes and fun filler episodes, it manages to be enjoyable despite its flaws. While the animation is somewhat stilted and certain voice actors do a terrible job, the experience comes together rather nicely and creates a fantastic series.

It balances its fantasy elements well with the silly atmosphere presented with its world, creating a great mixture of realism with surrealism. That’s why I can wholeheartedly recommend this show to fans of fantasy or comedy. This is one of those rare anime that made me laugh, that felt like it appealed to my bizarre sense of humor. That’s why I can say that this show is definitely as Sweet As Syrup and is totally worth a watch!

My Thoughts On Samurai Jack Season 5 Premiere

Well, after 13 long years, we finally have the continuation of one of the greatest cartoons ever: Samurai Jack. This is a saga that revolves around a strong and hardened warrior, namely a samurai named Jack. After Jack’s attempt to murder an all-powerful demon, he is flung thousands of years into the future. This new twisted timeline is ruled by said demon, the ultimate evil known as Aku. The show from here on out focuses on Jack’s seemingly never-ending quest to return to his proper time and defeat Aku.

The show was sadly cancelled after season 4, and for the longest time we didn’t have a continuation. There was a comic book published by IDW that continues the plot, but the original creator of the series has gone on record in saying its non-canon. The comics are still great, but they aren’t the continuation everyone had really hoped for. The series also ended on a rather ambiguous note, refusing to provide a conclusive ending to the series.

However, with season 5 of the show now airing, we’re getting just that! Samurai Jack is back and much darker than before, while still retaining the charm of the original. It’s one of the most amazing and entertaining cartoons I’ve had the pleasure of watching in the past decade. It has very few flaws, and the ones it does have due little to sour the experience. I just hope that Adult Swim can keep up the quality on this series throughout its ten episode run.

I’m just glad we’re getting a conclusion to this story after so long. Samurai Jack is a thing of beauty, but it’s also a story that should end at some point. There’s no need to keep dangling the carrot in front of our faces for decades at a time. With the amount of effort going into this conclusion, I have the feeling that we will finally get that satisfactory ending.

My Favorite Band: JAM Project

 

I often don’t talk about music a whole lot on my blog, probably because it isn’t my favorite thing in the world. I do love music, but it’s not something I often write about or want to write about. However, I did feel like discussing my favorite band, a band I feel doesn’t get enough recognition in the West. I’m of course talking about the Japanese rock band known as JAM Project.

These guys are the Japanese equivalent to the band Queen, possessing a similar kind of awesomeness. Each band member has had a career in singing theme songs to anime, even before joining the band. Having all these amazing musicians together is fantastic, and they all gel together very well. Each song is packed with energy and extremely vibrant, as well as being fast and in your face.

When it comes to bands, I don’t have many I like. I guess you can call me a hipster, because I just can’t get behind the music of nowadays. Too many bands I’ve never heard of, too many regurgitated love songs, too many repetitive and formulaic songs. When it comes to JAM Project though, I can listen to them all day and all night! They are an amazing band that produces so many amazing songs. Sure, not all their songs are great, but a large majority of them are. If you like awesome Japanese music, I recommend checking them out!