Earth Defense Force and The Allure of Cheesy Sci-Fi

If there’s something I dig, it’s old-school sci-fi horror films from the 50s and 60s. These old films have a strong campy value to them, which makes them immensely entertaining to watch. Sure, I love the occasional crime drama, superhero action flick, or comedy show. However, nothing really compares to the feeling I get when I see something goofy like the original “The Fly” movie from the 50s.

There’s something powerful about nostalgia, especially when you apply it to something that hasn’t aged well. A lot of old monster movies come off feeling more like comedies nowadays, with their overtly serious portrayals of rather odd scenarios. Despite most forms of media having tackled this, video-games are a rather untapped market for this kind of parody / homage. Sure, you’ve got the Rampage and Godzilla games, but not a whole lot beyond that.

Since the early 2000s though, Japan has had their own game series to appeal to fans of cheesy giant monster flicks from back in the day. I’m talking about a game series I previously discussed: Earth Defense Force. The EDF has a pretty simple premise: Giant monsters invade, your a marine sent to stop, go and shoot giant bugs. That’s pretty much every game in a nut-shell, yet there is a lot to like in this game series.

There’s the massive amount of weapons to collect, beasties to fight, and different classes to try. The main appeal of the game is its devotion to classic giant monster films. You end up fighting giant Godzilla-like lizards, giant robots, massive alien walkers, and an insane amount of enormous insects.

To a lot of people, this is why they like this series. We look back at a lot of old cheesy sci-fi films as not having aged well, but they still hold a lot of entertainment value. People can still get something out of The Fly, Godzilla, Mothra, King Kong, or The Reanimator. That’s why the allure with EDF is so strong, because people just love the nostalgic vibe it gives off.

Sure, the gameplay is fun, the giant monsters are fun to destroy, and the amount of weapons to collect is enticing. All of those things are factors in why people enjoy the series, but I think it’s because it is all wrapped up in a silly sci-fi scenario. You feel like you’re in a sci-fi movie, as a nameless marine just trying to survive.

In a way, that’s what makes EDF so amazing. It’s not that it’s just a cheesy sci-fi movie, it’s an INTERACTIVE cheesy sci-fi movie. Despite EDF’s amazing premise, it’s far from a perfect game. Several games in the series have a ton of glitches, technical issues, and a premise that may alienate fans of more serious third-person games.

I feel with the sudden resurgence of giant monster movies in media, we’ve also seen a resurgence of interest in EDF. If you look at more recent EDF games, you’ll notice they are getting quite a bit more attention. More people are talking about and playing these games, which is much appreciated.

I hope this series continues to get more attention and continues to evolve. I highly recommend starting with Earth Defense Force 2, if you have a Vita. Earth Defense Force 2017 is also a good place to start. I recommend saving Insect Armageddon until after you’ve played at least a couple of the games, since it’s a spinoff that follows its own plot. Regardless, if you’re looking for some cheesy sci-fi monster action, there’s no better game than EDF!

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Power Stone Retrospective Review

If there was any console that died too soon, it was the Dreamcast. The Sega Dreamcast was a console that had a fair bit of really good games, but undersold on the market. The PS2 and Gamecube walloped it to oblivion, forcing Sega to stop making consoles. This really sucks, since the Dreamcast had some of my most favorite games ever: Skies of Arcadia, Phantasy Star Online, Shenmue, Crazy Taxi, Sonic Adventure, etc.

One game that I always enjoyed playing on the ill-fated console was the Power Stone series. What is Power Stone? Back in 1999, Capcom was on a huge binge releasing some of their best titles ever. I’m talking games like Resident Evil 3, Street Fighter III: Third Strike, and Dino Crisis. One game that stood out was the Dreamcast exclusive Power Stone, a fully 3D fighting game. This wasn’t just any normal fighting game though, since Power Stone developed into a small franchise and developed a rather large following. It’s mostly forgotten nowadays, but I still think it’s worth talking about.

Power Stone 1

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The gang’s all here!

Now, a 3D fighting game wasn’t anything new at the time. Sega had one of their own, known as “Virtual-On”. What set Power Stone apart from Virtual-On was its gameplay, and its focus on strategy. Power Stone puts you in a small arena, while pitting you against your opponent. You can use parts of the scenery as weapons, such as tossing chairs or pots at your foe. You can leap onto higher planes of the map and dive-kick your enemies, or even attack them with the various items the game gives you.

The thing that makes Power Stone so unique is the Power Stones themselves. Power Stones are these magic gems in the game, ones that can boost the ability of its users and grant wishes. While they only grants wishes during ending cut-scenes, they definitely change the flow of combat. Collecting three Power Stones allows your hero to transform, buffing them up into an unstoppable juggernaut.

Once you transform, you can curve-stomp your opponent into oblivion with ease, if you play your cards right. Sometimes, fighting over the Power Stones can be more entertaining than actually fighting your opponent! You see, when you collect a Power Stone, it doesn’t stay on you forever. Your opponent can knock the literal stones out of you, and then use said stones to transform.

As a result, the game becomes this mad rush to collect all three Power Stones, and obliterate your opponent. That’s where the strategy of the game comes in, as you can never be too careful while fighting your opponent. You have to factor in both your enemy’s abilities, the Power Stones themselves, as well as the various weapons scattered around the environment.

Unfortunately, this also brings up Power Stone’s biggest flaw: Balance. Certain characters such as the muscle-bound Gunrock, the martial artist with the porn-star name, Wang-Tang, and the two secret bosses are a bit too overpowered. Wang-Tang in the hands of an experienced player can really decimate the opponent, since a lot of his attacks are pretty dang fast. Gunrock is a beast who can who deal a ton of damage, and the two secret bosses were not balanced at all, even when the developers decided to make them playable.

Still, this wasn’t really a deal-breaker for me. Power Stone was a game that felt like it was always meant to be played at parties, not a Capcom fighting game you’d find at tournaments. The game’s inevitable sequel, known as “Power Stone 2” echoes this sentiment.

Power Stone 2

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Pro-tip: It’s usually not a good idea to have in-game models on the cover. Especially when the graphics will be dated in just a couple of years.

 

It was the year 2000, just a year after the first game when Capcom decided to push out a sequel. Power Stone 2 looked to do what the first game did, while amping up so many aspects of it. There were now more Power Stones, more characters to play as, new stages, new stage mechanics, new weapons, an item shop system, etc. Power Stone 2 was like Power Stone on crack, in my opinion.

The game now boasted a 4 player mode, meaning you and three friends could beat the snot of each other. Since the game-play now had more participants, this meant increasing the amount of Power Stones from 3 to 5. This means that a person could hoard 2 stones, even if the opponent transforms using the other three. Unfortunately, by increasing the amount of stones, the game decreased their importance.

Power Stone transformations now don’t do as much damage as they did before, which is both a good thing and a bad thing. It’s a good thing in that it balances the game more, but it’s bad in that it makes the form changes far less special. The combat is still fairly entertaining, despite Power Stone transformations being somewhat less useful. Battle stages are now far more interactive, allowing characters to better utilize the stage’s artillery.

Each stage is now its own set-piece, complete with moving parts and obstacles for the player. As the battle progresses, the stage will take on various different forms. For example, in one part of a stage you may be on a battle-ship high in the air. Next, you may be high-diving from said battleship into the sky.

The sheer variety each stage brings is rather welcome in my opinion. Unfortunately, some stages do have a tendency to come off a bit too gimmicky. A good example of this is the stage with the submarines, which had turrets and mini-ships, along with all the previously available weaponry. It just felt too cluttered with options, in my opinion.

The biggest change to the game came in the form of the “Item Shop”. For those you have never played the game and don’t know what this is, there’s an in-game shop where you can earn various items. You can combine pre-existing items together to get new items to use in combat against your foe, or pieces of clothing that you can use to customize your character. You can also purchase in-game items using a currency you acquire as you play through the game’s various modes.

Item collecting was always the most addicting part of Power Stone 2. There were so many darn items to collect, most of which were pretty crazy. You can get a skateboard, a lightning sword, or even magical elemental cards. This feature offered so much replay value, which gave the player more of incentive to go back and play the game after completing it.

Power Stone 2 introduced 6 new characters, 2 of which had to be unlocked. You had the speedy cowboy Accel, and the crazy chef Gourmand. Power Stone 2 managed to build upon Power Stone 1, and add so much crazy cool stuff to it. The game went from being a fighting game that’s good at parties, to being a fighting game that felt like it was designed to be played solely at parties.

There was less of a focus on strategy, but the combat was still just as fun. The set-pieces the game brought were refreshing, even if the new boss fights were kind of lame. Still, Power Stone 2 managed to improve on the gameplay while still retaining most of what made the original had to offer. All was set for the inevitable Power Stone 3, which would rock our socks off!

Power Stone Collection

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“You know who’s got the power!”

Yeah… Power Stone 3 was never made. Capcom abruptly forgot about this game after its second installment, possibly due to low sales. As a result, the third game never materialized. Instead, we were given this compilation game released exclusively for the Playstation Portable. As the title would imply, Collection brought together the two games that made up the series. However, it also added a ton of new features as well!

The game has an art gallery, which includes all the various storyboard artwork and sound clips from both games. It includes promotional artwork, as well as allowing the player to see all the ending cut-scenes that they unlocked. There were new features as well! You could now play as characters who were exclusive to Power Stone 1 in Power Stone 2, and vice-versa.

This meant you could actually play as the overpowered monstrosity Valgas in the second game. Sadly, you can’t play as Mel and Pride Falcon in the first game, the latter of which is my favorite character. Power Stone Collection also expanded the features of the item shop, such as allowing the player to trade items with their friends. That’s right, Power Stone Collection added Ad Hoc multiplayer!

This meant that you can play with your friends whenever you wanted to! Sadly, there was no online multiplayer. Unless you had friends who happened to have PSPs, then you were completely out of luck when it came to multiplayer. Power Stone also introduced ad-hoc mini-games that you could play with your friends, but good luck finding other people to play those with you!

Power Stone Collection’s biggest feature was its portability. It allowed you to take these two amazing games on the road with you, which is something I did quite often in my teenage years. Power Stone Collection’s small additions were definitely welcome, adding a bit more meat to the bones of games that were over half a decade old at this point.

Conclusion

Power Stone is a game series that was truly amazing for the time, but probably wasn’t too enticing to most people. A lot of people just preferred 2D fighters, ones that were more tournament-friendly. It doesn’t help that Power Stone was released on a console that was doomed to fall into obscurity.

Still, Power Stone was a fun game series that stood the test of the time. Yes, it has not aged well graphically, there isn’t a lot to it mechanics wise, and it doesn’t do much at all with its 17th century setting. Despite this, the two games are still enjoyable romps for those who have never experienced them.

As the years went by, the series slowly became something of a cult classic. Like a lot of old games I really enjoy, I still find myself coming back to the series from time to time. Now, you’ll probably noticed I missed an entry in this franchise. That’s right, I didn’t say anything at all about the Power Stone Anime.

Well, I’m saving that for a later date. For my 300th post, I will watch through the Power Stone anime, and give an in-depth critique on what I thought of it. Despite the fact that I had watched the show in the past, I never finished it for some reason. However, I’m going to go through it episode by episode, and give my overtly analytical view on it. Stay tuned for that in the future!

My First Anime DVD: Dragon Drive

You always remember your first, well at least I tend to. When I was younger, anime was all over television. I grew up on stuff like Dragon Ball, Digimon, and Pokemon. However, when those anime were brought over to America, they are usually heavily edited for content. That means that I was usually getting a watered down experience on television, compared to the kind of anime one could see on home video.

That brings me to the first uncensored anime I had ever seen on DVD: Dragon Drive. For those of you who don’t know what this series is, allow me to explain. Dragon Drive was based off a manga of the same name that revolved around a young man named Reiji Oozara. Reiji is a humongous slacker, who barely tries at all in anything he attempts.

Reiji is one day tricked into playing this new game called “Dragon Drive” by his childhood friend, Meiko Yukino. Dragon Drive is a fighting game, in which players are given dragons and proceed to battle it out. Reiji enters the game and is gifted with a seemingly weak dragon named “Chibisuke”, who soon turns out to be more than he appears.

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A game based off a show based off a manga about playing a game? That’s just silly!

With Reiji and his new dragon, he makes a vow to climb up the ladder and become the champion of Dragon Drive. All the while, Reiji promises to make himself into a better perseon and turn his life around. That’s something I dug about the show, the idea of a slacker becoming more reliable and dependable. Seeing a character go through a terrible situation, only to turn it around and become a better person is one of my favorite cliches.

Of course, it’s not that easy for Reiji. He soon discovers himself being pulled into an ancient prophecy, while being transported to an entirely new universe. It’s up to Reiji and his friends to defeat an evil organization, fight against a strangely dressed villain, and return to their home-world.

It’s your pretty standard stuff for a Shonen action anime. Fight scenes are usually pretty good, though CGI animation is insanely dated. Certain action sequences can look like the animated equivalent of two action figures bashing against each other, mostly due to the lackluster CGI.

The 2D art and animation is pretty solid, though nothing too spectacular. This was made on a TV budget, after all. Still, the designs and the way the characters are drawn tended to stick with me the most. Character designs are extremely varied, which is always something I appreciate in any form of medium.

Going back to this show nearly a decade later helped me realize that it has really not aged well. Still, the show does hold a special place in my heart! I remember buying the first season DVD box-set and watching through it all at once in a weekend. The show was the first anime I ever saw completely uncut, and it was truly a treat to behold.

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“We having Dragon-Yak tonight!”

Despite the show’s formulaic nature, the English dub is what really sold me on the series. It was actually fairly well done, albeit flawed in certain areas. You see, this dub was done in the early 2000s. This was a time when anime dubbing wasn’t really a fine art, so you have some awkward voices here or there. Sometimes, characters will awkwardly pause in the middle of a sentence, or begin to talk over someone else at random.

That’s not even mentioning the amount of awkward line reads that happens over the course of the series. A lot of that is forgivable though, due to the solid voice-cast the show uses. You have industry professionals like Tabitha St. Germain, Brad Swaile, Scott McNeil, and Brian Drummond lending their voices to this series.

Despite the fact that some of their deliveries fall flat, they do put their all into what they are saying most of the time. As previously stated, the series was uncensored when released on DVD. This was a much welcome change, when compared to most anime I had seen previously. Dragon Drive also contained the Japanese version’s soundtrack, which was… Decent.

Dragon Drive had a pretty basic soundtrack as far as Shonen anime go, but at least it had a badass theme song. The show ran for 38 episodes and covered the “First Season” of the manga, though stopped before it could adapt the second one. I’ve never been able to find a reason behind this, though it’s probably due to budget.

Dragon Drive ended up as a fairly obscure anime, kept alive by its small and devoted fan-base. Despite season 2 never getting adapted, people still go back and watch the series. Heck, I re-watched the second half of the show just the other week! Dragon Drive isn’t a perfect show, but for my anime on DVD, it was everything I wanted.

It’s been almost a decade and a half since this series ended, but it’s still something I find myself coming back to here and there. It’s definitely something I can recommend, for those who are interested. Just be wary of that early 2000s anime cheese, it can make the show a bit difficult to watch at times. Still, if you can stick with it for a few episodes, I think it’s something that a lot of anime fans can come to enjoy. Just be warned that this show isn’t exactly easy to find. Heck, the DVD box-set alone runs for over 300 bucks on Amazon!

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EPIC POINTING!

Sweet As Syrup: Infini-T Force Review

The 70s was definitely a far-out time. Despite not being born in that decade, I still grew up with various pieces of material from that decade. This includes shows and movies such as Star Wars Episode IV, Jaws, and various anime from Tatsunoko’s library. I grew up on shows like Science Ninja Team Gatchaman, Karas, and Tekkaman Blade. These shows are the reason I was excited about Tatsunoko’s newest and biggest project: Infini-T Force.

Infini-T Force is a crossover between four of Tatsunoko’s biggest shows: Casshern, Tekkaman, Gatchaman, and Hurricane Polymar. The show involves these four superheroes being pulled into a world similar to our own. They take up residence with a young woman who has a magical pencil that can alter reality, while at the same time defending her from villains to seeking to use pencil for their own gain.

Seems like a weird concept, but the show is very entertaining in execution. Each of the four heroes possesses their own skills and abilities, many of which made for excellent action sequences. For example, the cyborg Casshern can channel electricity through his body and use it as a weapon, while Joe The Eagle from Gatchaman can move at blinding speeds.

The kind of villains are heroes face are weird vampire chicks, David Bowie wannabees, and your typical armored super-villains. Yeah, this anime has a lot of cliched villains. In this show’s defense, at least the villains have a fair bit of fleshing out to them. They have some unique mannerisms and personality traits, that do make them stand-out more than your typical cadre of antagonistic animated arch-enemies.

What makes this show really stand out from the crowd is its animation. Infini-T Force is one of those anime that has a CGI art-style, which has a tendency to turn certain people off. This is because that a lot of CGI anime tends to look really bad, since the budget for CGI animation in Japan usually isn’t as high as it is in American productions.

Infini-T Force bucks this trend, by having a high animation budget and some amazing CG. Fight scenes are fast and energetic, with animation that’s solid enough to support it. Looking good is just part of it, it also has to sound good. Thankfully, the show has an amazing soundtrack and solid voice-cast. Tons of professional anime voice-actors lend their voices to this series, though some of their performances can sound a little flat at times.

The soundtrack is fantastic, especially the catchy opening theme song. Then again, it’s typical of most anime nowadays to have a solid soundtrack. Another thing the show does right is character designs. The characters look fantastic, both in and out of their costumes. Now, this show has a lot of good going for it. Unfortunately, it also has a fair bit of glaring flaws.

For example, the character of Emi is really unlikable. Her character development is painfully slow, and she comes off as rather mean-spirited and distant for much of the series. I know she’s supposed to grow into a better character later on, but it’s taking forever for the show to get to that point.

Also, the show starts off kind of slow. Things don’t really pick up until near the end of the first episode, and the second episode seemed to have some pacing issues. Regardless, after that point, the show became a lot more interesting and entertaining. The last thing I’d like to touch on that I didn’t like about this show, is that the plot took a while to really get going.

We didn’t know the villain’s main motivation until episode 7, or what he even wanted. Most of those first 6 episodes are spent with the heroes fighting a bunch of flunkies, albeit ones with some fairly interesting backstories. Still, the main villain has spent a good chunk of the series thus far being practically non-existent. Only in recent episodes has he started doing anything of worth, which is kind of sad.

Now, I’d give further opinions, but this show has not finished airing yet. As I’ve said, it’s only aired 8 episodes so far. I don’t know how many episodes this show will air, though I doubt it’ll be over 13. Once the series finishes, I will give a larger and more thought-out critique on it.

Still, I think this is a show worth watching. It’s one of the few fully CGI anime that actually looks good, is fun to watch, and isn’t a chore to sit through. I doubt Infini-T Force will rock your world, but it’s something to that’s definitely entertaining. Keep in mind that the show does have a fair bit of slot moments, and some pointless filler here or there. If you’re looking for a new superhero anime that features classic characters, I definitely recommend checking out Infini-T Force.

The Problem With Star Wars Movie Trailers

Something I haven’t talked about on this blog in quite some time is the Star Wars franchise. Star Wars is a sci-fi series that has been running for over 30 years now, and is one of the most well-known franchises in the world. Almost every film makes a killing at the box-office, even if the quality of some of its entries can be debatable. The age-old tales of space samurai and evil cyborg dads has captured the imagination of multiple generations.

So, it’s unsurprising that the series has gotten more of a resurgence in the past few years. We’ve had new movies, new comics, new cartoons, new games, on top of much needed updates to older Star Wars games. There’s never a lack of content for Star Wars fans, it seems. With all the new movies out, of course there’s going to be trailers and advertisements coming out by the dozens.

Unfortunately, Star Wars seems to have a hit a snag when it comes to trailers. A lot of Star Wars movie trailers seems to be over-obsessed with showing the same elements over and over again. Look at the trailers for the last 3 Star Wars films. We’ve got scenes in the trailers depicting one of the heroes turning to the dark side, a bunch of classic characters we haven’t seen in years, and a ton of scenes that are taken out of context just to put butts in seats.

Now, this isn’t anything new. Trailers are meant to entice viewers by showing them all these amazing things, which isn’t exclusive to movie trailers. The thing is that Star Wars doesn’t need to do this, because it will sell really well regardless. Lately, I feel the newer Star Wars trailers have been obsessed with showing you the best parts of the movie.

While I liked Star Wars: Rogue One, I felt that the trailer showed a bit too much of the epic action sequences. Likewise, the trailer for “The Last Jedi” felt as though it was trying too hard to emulate the feel of Rogue One’s trailer. Both trailers seem to feature a lot of the elements I mentioned earlier, such as heroes turning to the dark side and out of context scenes.

I feel like the Star Wars trailers are being designed to be too enticing nowadays, which goes against how they were in the past. Sure, those trailers were still meant to entice people, but they were done differently. They were obsessed with showing you a ton of nostalgia, the best scenes in the movie, and characters joining the bad guys. These trailers were great because they were well-written, showed enough of the film to be interesting, and weren’t obsessed with shoving nostalgia in your face.

Say what you will about the prequels, but Episode III had a truly amazing trailer. The best part is that the trailer was entertaining in its own right, without showing too many of the biggest and best scenes in the film. I feel that trailer had a good mix of enticing, exciting, and exhilarating content. Heck, I remember the first time I saw this trailer in a theater full of people. Right when the clips started playing on the big screen, I heard a man in back shout “YEEEEEEEEEEEAH!” as loud as he possibly could.

This factors into another problem I have with Star Wars trailers, which has to do more with the movie side of things. Nowadays, Disney is focused on giving us a new Star Wars movie each year. That means we have a steady stream of new Star Wars movie trailers on a yearly basis, taking away a lot of the mysticism of a trailer releasing.

You’ll never hear a person shouting merrily when a Star Wars trailer starts playing on the big-screen nowadays. It’s just an awkward silence, with the occasional cough or kid screaming in the background. The thing is, a trailer doesn’t define how good the movie itself will be. A good trailer could be attached to a bad film, or vice versa. While I do like the newer Star Wars movies, I just can’t get behind the advertising.

The repetitive use of certain elements, characters, or story beats causes these trailers to lose some of the “magic” that Star Wars would normally evoke. I’ll still keep watching the Star Wars movies as long as they are entertaining, but I could care less for trailers that are shoveled out for them. While most people may enjoy said advertisements, I’m just sick of the rigmarole circling around them.

Remembering X-Play: Gaming Journalism Gone Wrong

Believe it or not, there was a time when there was a ton of video-game shows littering the airwaves. I don’t just mean cartoons either, I’m talking about shows that did nothing but discuss games. Video & Arcade Top 10 and Electronic Playground are just a few examples, but probably the biggest source for gaming television came with a single network: G4.

G4 was unique in that most of its starting programs were game-related. After Tech TV bought the network, gaming shows slowly dropped in numbers over the years. The two shows that remained with G4 the longest were Attack of The Show, and X-Play. While Attack slowly phased out its gaming-based content, X-Play continued to pump out review after review.

X-Play started out as a semi-entertaining review show. Sure, it’s previews and reviews weren’t anything revolutionary, but you could tell that they cared somewhat about what they reviewed. However, sometime around the early-to-mid 2000s, the series took a turn for the worse. The two hosts of the show, Adam Sessler, and Morgan Webb began to adopt a “Holier-Than-Thou” attitude.

A lot of their reviews came off as pessimistic, as if they knew better than the audience. The worst thing you could do as a reviewer is act as though you are better than the person watching. A good example of this was during their “Phantasy Star Online Episode III” review, where Morgan began with a rather unfunny rant about how there’s “too many card games” out there. This culminated in a rather unfunny and fairly annoying sketch where Morgan “called up” Japan to complain about the amount of card games out there.

Never-mind the fact that card-based games were only a sub-genre. Despite all the complaints lobbied against the game by Morgan, she still somehow managed to give the game a “3 out of 5”. Back when I did score reviews, I gave more of a reason as to why I scored episode II as a “6.5/10”. A lot of this X-Play review was just a bunch of complaining, followed by a score that didn’t feel justified. Still, that wasn’t the worst review X-Play put out. A good example of how bad the writing for these reviews got was during the Dungeon Siege II review.

Much of the review was spent jokingly comparing it to Lord of The Rings. It could have been a funny gag, but a lot of the review was spent doing this. Which is a shame, because I feel that Dungeon Siege II was given a fair review. Halfway through said review, Morgan randomly started talking about a Dungeon Siege comic she received with the game.

This included some more unfunny sketches, further padding out an already fairly short review. Of course, these aren’t the worst reviews X-Play has made. Who could forget their review of “Final Fantasy VII: Crisis Core” for the PSP? The internet couldn’t, that’s for sure! For those who don’t know, Adam Sessler reviewed Crisis Core upon release. He gave the game an immensely low score of 2/5, which people didn’t like all that much.

In said review, Adam would go on to insult the writing quality of Japan overall, complain about how easy the game is, complain about how difficult the game is in the same breath, and generally come off as know-it-all. The worst part comes when Adam insults the writing, saying how only the Japanese would find it entertaining. Despite the fact that a lot of people from North America (myself included) dig cheesy Japanese game writing.

The thing is that I can respect and get behind some of the points X-Play made, but I can’t stand the amount of annoying sketches, cynicism, and bad attempts at comedy. There’s nothing wrong with speaking negatively about a game you know a lot of people will like, as long as you back up your claims with some solid points and arguments.

Sadly, a lot of X-Play’s later reviews devolved into bad sketches and nitpicking. It’s okay to give Crisis Core a low score, but you need better points than “It was too easy” and “The writing was bad”. It’s especially sad, since they started off as a fairly entertaining game review and news source. Heck, I still dig their preview of the Gamecube version of “Phantasy Star Online Episodes 1 & 2”.

Sadly, X-Play stopped producing quality content like this in their later years. Come January of next year, X-Play would’ve been off the air for five years. The show’s former hosts have since retired from gaming journalism, despite occasional appearances at live game events.

The thing about X-Play’s later years was not on the fault of the reviewers themselves, but their constant need to try to appeal to the modern gamer. What a person wanted from a review changed over the years, and sadly the writers of X-Play did not know how to cope with said changes. As a result, the reviews became overstuffed with superfluous fluff and pointless filler.

Nearly five years after this show ended, five years since an episode aired, and nobody wants to see it return. It had a solid 15 year run, gaining a ton of fans, but also a lot of scrutiny as well. Almost every X-Play review and episode remains online for people to watch whenever the want, since we’ll never see a DVD release due to copyright reasons.

X-Play went from a show that struggled to appease its gaming audience, to a forgotten artifact that anyone who uses Youtube can have access to. With G4 dead, gaming journalism being done mostly online nowadays, and Youtube becoming the hub for all game reviews, X-Play will most likely never see a return.

Maybe that’s for the best, in a way. X-Play ran for 15 years, from 1998 to 2013. People nowadays tend to remember X-Play for the good content they put out in their early years, rather than their mediocre later content. Whether you love or hate X-Play, you have to admit that they were something different from most shows that were airing on television at the time. Whether that is a good thing or bad thing depends entirely on the individual watching it.

My Elder Scrolls Online Story: Ordeal of The Broken Heart

Author’s Note: Recently, Bethesda and Zenimax Online announced a contest. Before the announcement proper, they were asking people to submit their own stories. This is the one I ended up submitting to the site proper. Sadly, they never published it on the site. I’m not sure if they’ll do this later or not, but I thought I’d show you guys all the same. There wasn’t any rule about self-publishing it on my blog, so I figured I’d share it with you all.

This quest revolves around my Argonian character, and how he dealt with the quest “Quieting a Heart”. In the story, I relate what the character goes through with how I feel about this quest. I try to create a mix of perspectives from both me, and the character I play as. Also, I don’t mention my character’s name in the story, because I intentionally game a rather silly and nonsense Argonian name: “Shakes-His-Rear”. Anywho, I hope you enjoy!

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There are few times in a game where I feel I have made both the right and wrong decisions at the same time. In most games, I always get the feeling I know what I’m getting myself into with each choice. This wasn’t the case with the quest known as “Quieting a Heart”. The quest started off fairly simple, with my Argonian Dragon Knight coming across a woman in mourning. I often chose to portray my reptilian warrior as a symbol of peace and justice.

So, it was inevitable that my character hears the plea of this woman. I spoke to this Dunmer woman, who was mourning her lost love, a fellow Dunmer named “Eanan”. Her goal was to communicate with Eanan’s spirit, in order to alleviate her sadness. The quest itself starts off innocently enough, with my Argonian being tasked with collecting several mushroom caps.

After completing this basic task, I return to Bala for further instructions. Afterwards, I am sent to spread dust over several tombs, trying to find the one that belong to Eanan. At the same time, I have to deal with various scamps and dark beings from Oblivion. After fighting, running away from, and sneaking past several of the demented demons, I find the correct tomb.

My character summons Eanan’s spirit, only for him to divulge a terrible secret. His relationship with Bala had been one giant lie! Eanan wants you to keep the lie going, and make it seem like he’s still waiting for Bala. This presents you with two options: Lie to Bala, or tell her the truth. In real-life, I view myself as a bit of an idealist. I try to look on the bright side of life, and when I roleplay a character in a game, I aim to behave the same way.

So, I decide that the only way to be a good Samaritan is to tell Bala the truth. I confront her and tell her that Eanan has been lying to her, that he never wanted to get married, and that he was already in a relationship with someone else all along. Bala doesn’t take this well, and argues with me about the subject. After telling her the truth, she runs off and disappears into the distance.
I assumed that she just needed some time alone to collect her thoughts, and that I’d run into a much happier Bala later down the line. However, I soon realized that my idealist ways had jeopardized my desired outcome. I stumbled across Bala much later, in a “different” form. As it turns out, Bala couldn’t handle being told the truth about Eanan.

She couldn’t handle the sadness my words had brought, and ultimately chose to end her suffering. This really struck me deep, as I thought I had done the right thing. As it turns out, I had just made things worse. Even as a spirit, Bala still longs to be reunited with Eanan. I had made her suffering worse, I was anything but the hero I was trying to play.

Even though it was just a game, Bala’s ultimate choice left me feeling hollow. It wasn’t until after I completed the quest that I realized there was no good choice at all, no desired happy ending. Bala is lead on for eternity, no matter which choice I make. After completion of the quest, I made it a goal to way my options with any mission that would present them. I used my decision with how I handled this quest to shape how my character would grow as a person, and realized that having a grand dream for the world just wasn’t enough.
Despite being a simple side-quest, “Quieting a Heart” struck a chord with me. I realized that being an idealist was just not enough, in both this game and real-life. In a way, I felt that I had improved as an individual after experiencing this side-quest. I realized that being a hero didn’t mean telling the truth and doing good deeds, but also realizing how those good deeds could affect others. If there was any lesson to be gleamed from this, it’s that it is something better to not get involved in the ways of the heart.

Which Is Better In Video-Games: Custom Characters, or Pre-Made Heroes?

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Dovahkiin & Deadpool: The Ultimate Heroes

When it comes to video-games, there’s a lot of things that can lead a series to success. Be it unique gameplay quirks, tons of content, or just a really nice visual style. A good selling point for a game is the protagonist you get to play as. A lot of games will often give you a pre-made hero, and require you to play through that character’s story. All of his character traits, personality quirks, and other such defining elements have already been fleshed out.

Examples of these are Death from Darksiders, Nathan Drake from Uncharted, Sir Daniel Fortesque from Medievil. Characters that already exist within this world make for good protagonists, giving the designers leeway to toy around with their backstory and motivations. However, within the later years of gaming emerged a new and ever-growing trend: Custom characters.

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How can one be a truly great warrior, if one does not grow a rocking beard first?

Custom characters started becoming more of a thing in the late 90s and early 2000s, eventually becoming a fixture for a lot of franchises. It’s hard to play a modern Phantasy Star, Dragon Ball, or wrestling game that doesn’t have this feature inserted into it. A lot of franchises now allow you to create your own characters, allowing you to insert yourself into the story.

Character creation adds so many opportunities for the player to weave their own persona into the game, allowing for more immersion. This begs a very important question, though: Which kind of protagonist is better? Is it the pre-made heroes, or the custom characters?

This is a tough question to answer, as I feel this comes down to personal preference. Some people prefer having a character that the game designers already made, as it allows them to get fully invested in this character and the story from the get-go. Other people (such as myself) prefer having custom characters, due to the creativity and role-play opportunities.

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So many choices for one little Jedi!

I often like to create a character and name him Jim, James, Jerald, or pretty much any name starting with a “J”. The thing is that since my name starts with a J, I like to create a character who’s name possesses the same letter. I feel this adds a bit of flair to the character, even before I decide on what the character should look like. Being able to personalize a character is one of the things I love about character creation.

That being said, custom characters can also be a doubled edge sword. Most games prefer not to give your custom character a voice, instead opting to have the character grunt. This means that your character will in most cases not have a speaking voice, which may be a good or bad thing depending on your views. I like having a character who doesn’t talk, but it can sometimes make me feel disconnected from the story.

Also, a custom character will never appear in full during cinematic cut-scenes. This is due to cinematic not running on the in-game engines. Normal cut-scenes will feature custom characters, but cinematic ones will often feature your character obscured or in a different outfit. Again, this is done to avoid breaking player immersion.

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“It’s Normal Guy, The Science Jedi!”

This is far different for pre-made hero, as these characters often have a singular fixed design. A hero that was already made by the developers tends to feel like a more fleshed out character than a custom creation.  For one thing, pre-made heroes can show up in all cut-scenes, are voice-acted (sometimes), and feel more like a living breathing part of this fictional world.

More often than not, a custom character can feel out of place, due in part to the insane amount of odd customization options. Believe it or not, some games can often give you some ridiculous creation choices that take out of the game. A good example of this is in Dragon Ball Xenoverse, which gave you so many ridiculous character options. Heck, you could run around with insect wings for crying out loud!

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Sadly, this axe was quickly replaced with “The Harbinger” after only a few hours of gameplay. It will not be missed.

Still, some games did do customization right. Fable: The Lost Chapters was a good example of this. In Fable, each character starts out identical to one another. However, your character changes as the game progresses. Choices you make decide how your character looks. For example, if you are evil then you will gain horns. Investing in certain stat trees can also change your hero’s look, such as gaining blue lines on your face if you become a mage.

How the character looks and behaves is determined entirely by how one plays the game. A rather obscure game named “Soul Sacrifice: Delta” has a unique take on this as well. In the game, you play as a prisoner who can’t be customized in any way. However, when he/she relives the memories of the sorcerer inside the book, the player is then given the opportunity to customize said character. In essence, you are just creating an avatar for the actual playable character to use.

So, to answer my original question: Which is better? While I think both pre-made heroes and custom character have their pros and cons, I prefer the latter. Custom characters just have so much versatility, plus it’s cool getting to design my own avatar within the game. Still, pre-made heroes are also pretty awesome, allowing the player to take on the role of an already pre-existing character.

In the end though, it doesn’t really matter which kind of hero I prefer. As long as the game is fun, entertaining, and thrilling, then I’ll continue to play it. Which kind of character the player is given shouldn’t impact what they enjoy too much, as long as the given character isn’t annoying or unlikable to said player. Be it either kind of character, I feel there’s a playable hero out there that every gamer can enjoy.

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A true hero walks his own path, which also happens to be a path filled with loading screens.

Prisoner Zero: The Australian Star Wars

Something I don’t watch a lot of is Australian cartoons. I never grew up in Australia and the channels that I tended to watch never showed cartoons from that country. The only cartoon from Australia I ever watched in my younger years was Fairy Tale Police Department. I was never a huge fan of that show, to be completely honest. A show I have been getting into as of late is some random cartoon I found on Netflix, one that happened to be made in the “Great Down Under”.

I’m talking about Prisoner Zero, which has to be one of the most obscure modern cartoons I’ve come across in a while. You see, the network that airs it (ABC 3) wanted to a replacement for the cancelled Star Wars: Clone Wars cartoon. As such, they commissioned a new sci-fi series to be aired on their network. This led to the creation of Prisoner Zero, a rather entertaining space adventure.

So, what makes PZ so interesting? For one thing, this is an Australian cartoon with an anime art-style. This is rare for shows in Australia, at least to my knowledge. While the show isn’t animated in Japan, it’s definitely similar in design. Unfortunately, this anime style can sometimes make character designs look awkward and clash horribly with each other.

All the guys have realistic faces, while all the females possess stylized cartoon-y faces. A good example of this is the character Gem, who has this strange pointy chin. The animation itself can be a bit off. It’s got that “Adult Swim” feel to it, if that makes any sense. Old Adult Swim shows used to have a fair bit of limited animation to them, kind of like this show.

Character movements can sometimes look stilted, though action scenes can still be very fierce at times. Unlike Star Wars, characters like to shoot energy blasts, instead of fighting using lightsabers. In a way, it kind of reminds me of Dragon Ball Z. Now, while some of those elements can be hit or miss, Prisoner Zero still manages to be rather engaging. This comes down to the solid voice-acting, good characters, and somewhat interesting plot.

In this show, the evil General Vikar and his “Imperium” have conquered most of the galaxy. A prisoner with amnesia named “Prisoner Zero” works with a group of ragtag rebels aboard a stolen ship, their goal being to stop Vikar and his Imperium. Vikar uses a system called the “Bioweve” to mind-control people, and essentially erase their minds. This concept gets a lot of use in the second episode, where Vikar mind-wipes EVERYONE on an entire planet.

Vikar then proceeds to blow said planet up, all in an attempt to get Zero to give back the stolen ship. Yeah, Vikar is one of those no-nonsense villains, complete with a deep voice and British accent. Vikar comes off as your typical all-powerful villain, but at least he manages to be a solid and consistent threat for our heroes.

Something I dug that this show did, is that it somehow manages to get every single main character involved in its stories. When you have a show like Prisoner Zero, which has an ever-growing cast, it’s always good to involve as many characters as you can. I hate it when shows introduce a cast of 20+ characters, then spend a ton of episodes ignoring most of them. Prisoner Zero manages to split focus just enough so that most scenes aren’t just Vikar and Zero going at it.

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Apparently, purple hair dye is a commonality in space.

Speaking of Zero, he is probably one of my favorite aspects of this show! Zero is an amnesiac hero, but one who is rather jovial, goofy, and fun-loving. A lot of franchises love to give their main characters amnesia, and proceed to use it as an excuse to not make them interesting. I can’t tell you how many shows and movies I’ve seen where the amnesiac hero is brooding, dark, or emotionless.

It’s nice to see a main character who has amnesia, but doesn’t let it get him down too much. One thing that I dug about the show was the ship our heroes use to sail the galaxy. The ship known as “The Rogue” isn’t any ordinary vessel, as it houses life inside its many floors. Within the deepest sections of the ship are a treasure trove of bizarre creatures and beings.

The show likes to have episodes where our heroes just to explore the ship itself, instead of beaming down to some random planet. I honestly prefer the ship exploration, as The Rogue comes off as a rather unique location. It feels like a living breathing place at times, with a bizarre assortment of odd aliens dwelling in its depths.

To summarize my feelings on this show, I think it has potential. Sure, it comes off as the kind of sci-fi story we’ve been told so many times before, but there’s just something enjoyable about it. This comes down to its lovable cast, solid voice acting, and the uniqueness and implementation of some of its concepts. The show isn’t perfect, but if you’re looking for something to satiate your thirst for sci-fi, then I think this series will do. Plus, you can watch it for free on Netflix right now! That’s what I call a good deal.

One of The Best Obscure Indie Comics Ever: Sharknife

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Stylin! (Artwork by Corey Lewis)

People seem to take a liking to Independent productions, also known as “Indies”. You’ve got Indie games, movies, and even TV shows on occasion. A high budget isn’t always need to produce something high quality. Sometimes all you need is the know-how, skill, and knowledge of what makes something work to fully put it together. This is what makes the works of a Mr. “Corey Lewis” so engaging.

Corey Lewis is known for a ton of more obscure comics, these include his anthology series known as “Sun Bakery”. Sun Bakery is a collection various comics, some of which are old and some are new. One of said older comics is “Sharknife”. It’s hard to fully describe what Sharknife, but I’ll try. The comic revolves around a young man named Caesar Hallelujah, and his best friend Chieko. They work for a Chinese food restaurant, that also doubles as a massive factory.

With the walls of said factory dwell powerful monsters, placed their by a gangster known as “Ombra Ravenga”. While fighting these malicious monsters is merely a meager attempt, the Guangdong Factory has one secret weapon up its sleeves: Caesar Hallelujah. By downing a single fortune cookie, Caesar becomes a powerful superhero named “Sharknife”. Not only does he gain super-natural strength and abilities, but also a fair bit of video-game-based powers. Using his varied skill-set, Caesar defends his place of employment from the various creatures and beings that threaten it.

On paper, this premise sounds ridiculous and kind of bland. In execution, it actually turns out to be pretty freaking awesome! A lot of this comes down to the artwork, which is magnificent. Lewis managed to combine the fluidity and action of a Shonen manga, with the style and urban feel of wall-graffiti. What it creates is an action series with fluid and fast-paced fight scenes. Despite being still images, the movements give off an “animated feel”. It’s hard to describe, but it comes down to how actions are portrayed.

Fights often play out with each character knocking each other around with flashy moves, combined with a strong sense of style. The amount of power put into every panel of every page is almost intoxicating. The way every punch is drawn makes you feel the impact, it’s really quite the rush! Likewise, character designs are pretty good.

I can always tell what each character is like by their design, which is always a plus. Unfortunately, sometimes a character doesn’t go beyond their design and general personality. Despite the amount of characters, only a few of them ever get focused on. The second volume (which goes by the subtitle “Double-Z”) is pretty infamous for introducing way too many characters, and bringing in characters from even more obscure spinoff materials.

As much as I like Sharknife, a lot of the series is style over substance. Sure, the fight-scenes, character designs, art-style, and backgrounds look amazing! Unfortunately, the dialogue, story, and how the characters act can be fairly bland. For example, the second volume introduces a long lost childhood rival of Caesar’s named “Enta Da Dragon”. Enta’s whole driving goal is to murder Caesar, because he beat him in a videogame and got superpowers. Seriously, that’s his whole purpose in the series.

Then again, Sharknife isn’t a series that takes itself too seriously at all. I can look past the lackluster story and somewhat underdeveloped characters, and still enjoy it for what it is: A sugar-infused action series with a lot of heart to it. I look forward to seeing what the “Soul of Sharknife” story in Sun Bakery will be like. Hopefully, it’ll be just as awesome as the first two volumes!