Hunter X Hunter Season 1 Review

I’ve made it no secret that I like anime. I don’t love the medium as much as I used to, but if a show captures my fancy, then I’ll be sure to at least attempt to watch it. One show that I found myself recently getting hooked on was an anime known as “Hunter X Hunter”. It’s based off a long running manga series of the same name and has had a couple different adaptations at this point.

I attempted watching the show last year, but found it difficult to fully get involved with the characters. A year later, I stumble across the English dub once more and decide to give it another go. To my surprise, I really ended up liking this show! The show did take a few episodes before I got fully invested, but by the time I was halfway through the first arc, I was hooked!

I thought I would started reviewing the series in its entirety, starting with the very first story arc “The Hunter Exam” arc. I guess you could classify this as the show’s first season. I want to tackle every single arc of this show, along with the two movies released to accompany it. I’ll do this sparingly as there is a lot of other projects I’m working on, but I eventually want to cover the entire series. Anyways, let’s get started!

Background Information

Hunter X Hunter is a manga and anime series originally created by Yoshihiro Togashi. This Togashi’s second long-running series, following in the heels of his other successful series Yu Yu Hakusho. With Hunter X Hunter, Togashi used the series in order to deconstruct elements of popular shonen anime. What started as a love letter to classic Shonen series soon evolved into its own thing, turning into a full deconstruction of the genre.

Hunter X Hunter became a very popular series in a short amount of time, but was soon hit by a series of hiatuses. Sadly, Togashi’s failing health caused him to delay the series several times. It’s been announced that by the end of this month, Togashi will be resuming the series once more.

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Is that Lady Gaga in the far right corner?

Plot and Characters

The first arc of the story focuses solely on the main protagonist of this series: Gon. The young man has dreams of following in the footsteps of his father and becoming a “Hunter”. Hunters are people who are allowed to travel the entire world, including areas that would normally be off limits to ordinary people. They have access to all kinds of secrets, and possess some of the most dangerous abilities in the world.

The first arc is known as the “Hunter Exam Arc”, and it involves Gon taking the test in order to become a hunter. He quickly makes three friends: Killua, a mysterious young boy who is also a dangerous assassin, a doctor in training named Leorio, and the ever-powerful Kurapika. The four young men soon find themselves entangled in a quarrel with a pair of powerful men with supernatural abilities.

I’ll be honest, this first arc starts off rather slow. While those first six or so episodes are decent, there’s nothing that groundbreaking or interesting happening within them. It isn’t until the third trial that things start to get really good. The moment our heroes face off against a group of prisoners in a series of intense battles and contests of wit is when the anime shows its true colors.

It balances well-animated combat with darker themes, giving the audience watching it a good mix of action and drama. The characters are very solid, but this early in the show they don’t get as much development. Characters like Killua’s family and Hisoka aren’t fully fleshed out, though they do get their moments and shine as characters.

Something that the story of this arc gets really well is that it actually sets up plot points in advance. Most anime tend to introduce new concepts, plots, and characters out of nowhere. However, Hunter X Hunter manages to detail a lot of its world and concepts before they are fully introduced. For example, we are introduced to “Nen” in this arc, but it isn’t fully fleshed out yet. We’re lead to believe that what the villains can do are actually feats of magic, at least until the next arc comes around and puts that theory to bed.

Of course, this arc does have its fair share of problems. The pacing at the start can feel pretty slow, especially when they get to the island, and certain events take a bit longer than they should. Fight-scenes are thankfully very short, but sometimes they can be a bit too short. It isn’t until the third arc in the series that fights start to feel longer and more drawn out. So, while I can stay this arc is good, it starts off rather bland and dull.

Visual Stimuli

The animation on this show is extremely solid! For a long-running Shonen anime, this show has some of the best animation in the entire genre. Animation looks fairly good most of the time, but really cranks up during action scenes. It’s hard to find a favorite action scene in this series, since most of them are extremely intense and well choreographed!

The voice-acting is pretty solid as well. I’ve mainly kept up to date with the English dub and only watched a bit of the Japanese version, but I can easily say that both versions are pretty well done. While the female voices for the male characters can grate a bit here or there, they do a good job of making the characters their own. None of the English dub actors from the 1999 anime return. This isn’t a big deal, but I really wish Brendan Hunter came back to play Hisoka. His new voice actor does a fantastic job, but Brendan really captured the smug nature of Hisoka well.

The music for this show is good, but it sadly gets repeated a bit too much. The show’s soundtrack is very limited, though this isn’t as apparent during the first story arc. Songs get repeated a lot through-out the show’s entire 148 episode run.  Like I said though, it’s not as bad during these early episodes.

In Conclusion

This show has a bit of a rocky start, but manages to pick up after those first few episodes. The show has an interesting concept and has a protagonist who relies more on outwitting his opponents, rather than overpowering him. Keep in mind though that this season definitely has its problems. Certain episodes can feel awkwardly paced, and some fights feel way shorter than they should.

Honestly though, I feel it’s worth watching. This is a series that prides itself on delivering good action, alongside good characters. The Hunter Exam arc is a good place to start, but the show doesn’t reach it’s true potential until later. For now, I can say that this show is definitely as sweet as syrup and worth your time and money. I recommend this series, and more specifically the first arc to fans of Shonen anime and action series in general.

Sweet As Syrup: Digimon Adventure Anode/Cathode Tamer Veedramon Version Review

Yep, this is officially the longest title of anything I’ve ever reviewed on my blog! I thought I’d talk about a Digimon game that I’ve been getting into as of late, a rather forgotten title known as “Digimon Adventure Anode/Cathode Tamer”. This was one of the first Digimon video-games ever made, and was created while the series was at its most popular in Japan. It also introduced the world to Ryo Akiyama, a character who would make appearances in the first three seasons of the series.

This game was the series’ first foray into tactical RPGs, and one of their last. Sadly, the series would rarely revisit this genre. Regardless, I want to discuss this game. With Digimon’s 20th anniversary fast approaching, I feel it’s time I take a look at a forgotten classic. Without further adieu, let’s dive right in!

Background Information

Digimon Adventure Anode Tamer was originally released in 1999 for the Wonderswan, which was a Japanese exclusive console. A second version was released in 2000 called “Cathode Tamer”, and eventually a third a version of the game was released for the Wondereswan Color. This will be the version I’m looking at, the one known as “Veedramon Version”.

Unlike the other two versions released, Veedramon had an English version and was primarily released in English-speaking parts of Hong Kong. The Digimon Tamer series on Wonderswan proved to be very popular, and soon the main character Ryo Akiyama started making appearances in the show. It started off as a few cameos, but eventually he became a canon part of both the second and third seasons.

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Can you smell that? That’s the sweet sweet smell of 90s nostalgia!

Plot

Taking place after the end of the first season, Digimon Anode/Cathode Tamer focuses on a young man name Ryo. One day, Ryo is chatting on a message-board, until he gets a strange message on his computer. After foolishly touching a Digi-vice (a tool used on the show to enhance the power of a Digimon) our hero is pulled into the Digital World.

This is where he meets Digital Monsters, known as Digimon. Ryo is forced to work alongside a lizard-like Digimon named Agumon, in order to rescue the Digidestined from the original show. You see, all the kids have been defeated and captured by the villains of the first season, who have resurrected and become more powerful in the process. Ryo is tasked with using Tai’s Digivice, along with partnering up with the chosen Digimon to once again defeat all of the Digidestined’s foes. Not only this, but Ryo has to go up again an all new villain named “Milleniumon”, an evil hybrid Digimon who represents the Y2K virus.

Yeah, the plot for this game is pretty generic. While it’s cool that you get to fight all the villains from the first season in game form, the reason they are all there feels a bit like a cop-out. They are all conveniently resurrected by the new villain, and none of them offer any interesting bits of dialogue. I get that this is a Wonderswan Color game, and that they were limited in what they were allowed to do.

Still, I can’t help but feel that they could’ve done more with the setting. Digimon Adventure was a show that had a universe that was ripe for expanding upon. Instead, they decided to rehash season 1 all over again. This wouldn’t bother me so much if they got the character portrayals wrong. Sadly though, characters behave in a very unfitting way. For example, after you save every Digidestined, they just leave the Digital World and basically abandon you to your quest. They never offer to help or stay, and they never come to your aid.

I get that this is done so that more attention is put on the player character, as opposed to side-characters. It’s just really out of character for the Chosen Children to just have somebody else do all the work for them. Am I thinking too deeply about this? I probably am, that’s just how my brain works. Regardless, I felt the plot to be very bland and forgettable. Very few interesting things happen, and it just ends up feeling like a hollow story overall.

Gameplay

The game is pretty basic in terms of structure. You can have a maximum of 3 Digimon in your party at at time, same goes for your opponent. In these 3v3 fights, you take turns with each individual Digimon. You move them across the grid to attack your opponent Digimon. While it seems simple, there are some things thrown in that help spice up the gameplay.

The game introduces something called “Variable Moves”. These are basically Digivolutions, a form of transformation evoked by Digimon in the series. However, Variable Moves are different in that they only last for one turn, where Digivolutions often last a lot longer in other games. Variable Moves are basically special summon attacks, and can be used to attack your opponent, heal an ally, or even buff your part members.

You can also use items both in and out of combat. These range from average healing items, to food or waste disposal items. That’s right, the game has some simulation elements to it. You have to take care of your Digimon, by both feeding it and cleaning up after it. Unfortunately, these particular elements of the game felt tacked on. More often than not, it felt like the hunger system was just an excuse to send me running back to the village to buy more meat. Thankfully, this doesn’t become too much of a problem, since you are given meat in battle.

Outside of combat, you can acquire new Digimon and travel the over-world. The over-world isn’t fancy, and it lacks any real depth to it. You just travel to new dungeons to send your Digimon to. There’s no secret areas, hidden zones, or anything to make it remotely interesting. Even the Pokemon games had wide open areas for you to explore! Sadly, the areas you explore feel so barren. There are very few Digimon to talk to in such areas as well.

Speaking of the game’s flaws, there was lot of elements to this game that generally rubbed me the wrong way. For example, the aforementioned Variable Moves system is rather annoying to get working properly. The game starts you off with no moves for any of your Digimon, you have to unlock them all by scratch by experimenting with different party combinations. The problem is that you get them entirely at random. It’s possible to get moves that could’ve been useful two dungeons, while in a completely new dungeon.

Balancing is another issue with the game. Certain Digimon that you are given at the start of the game feel way too overpowered. A good example of this was Veedramon, who pretty much broke most boss encounters. I liken Veedramon to Frederick from Fire Emblem, put in the middle of a battlefield and everyone will die in an attempt to take him out.

The game’s biggest offense though is its repetition and length. The game is very repetitive in its combat system. Certain fights will drag on for what feels like 30 minutes, sometimes longer. It gets really old, really fast. All the while, you’re stuck watching the same animations over and over again. It’s like if they made an episode of Digimon and only had a budget of 5 bucks and only about 20 frames of animation repeated over and over.

I feel like that’s an apt summary of this game in a nut-shell: “It’s like Digimon, but not as good and extremely dated”. It may sound cruel, but in terms of gameplay I feel it just doesn’t measure up to the flawed gem known as Digimon World, which came out the same year, but for a different console.

Visual Stimuli

This game looks pretty good for the time, to be honest. The sprite work is typical of a Wonderswan Color game, but they manage to capture the art-style of the original show very well. Digimon are well-designed and the battle sprites look nice enough, even if a few of them can look a bit uncanny valley at times. Sprites on the over-world can look a bit too simplistic though.

The problem with this game comes in the sound department. It sounds pretty bad, which is a result of the console’s limitations, I know. Still, the soundtrack felt grating at times due to the loud blaring noises. Another problem I had with the game was the odd translation. For some reason, the English version of the game chose to use a mixture of both the Japanese names and the American localized names. This made certain scenes feel a little odd for me.

While I did like the graphics, I felt the localization and soundtrack were a bit too stale for my tastes. As previously mentioned, the audio was blaring and the game’s localization couldn’t decide which translation it wanted to stick to. In all honesty, I found the production values of this game to be fairly hit-or-miss.

In Summation

I know that I have been fairly harsh on the game up until this point. I know it isn’t entirely fair, seeing as how this game was one of the first few Digimon games ever made. However, it did help kick-start an entire sub-franchise, and introduced the fandom to a character who would be popular for years to come. I guess I went into this game with too high of expectations.

Now, do I hate this game? No, but I have trouble saying that it’s a good game. It’s a middle-of-the-road game. I enjoyed parts of the game, and was totally a sucker for the nostalgic elements of it. The problem was that the game was too short, lacked an interesting plot, and didn’t do enough to distance itself from the many other tactical RPGs coming out around that time.

So, with that I can say that the game isn’t as sweet as syrup. Do I recommend it? Well, kind of. I can only really recommend this game to two kinds of people: Those who love Digimon and Ryo, and those who love tactical RPGs. While you can easily skip this game in favor of future games, I do suggest at least trying it. It does introduce the hero and villain of this series and is fun for an hour or two, but that’s about it. Anyways, that’s my personal thoughts on the game. If anyone else has played this game, I’d like to hear your thoughts on it as well. If you feel I presented any elements of the game incorrectly, feel free to call me out on it. Regardless, I hope you all have a great day!

Sweet As Syrup: Villainous Cartoon Review

I’ve decided to ditch my usual review formula to cover a series of cartoon shorts that have been making their rounds as of late. I usually don’t review animated shorts, Super Turbo Atomic Ninja Rabbit being one of the exceptions. However, I felt it was time to tackle some more animated shorts. What better series of shorts to talk about then “Villainous”, CN’s newest hit.

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It’s like Addam’s Family, but with a casual dress-code!

The show hasn’t even released in America yet, and it’s still managed to gain a sizable fan-base! Honestly, I was hooked on the premise alone. A show focusing on what are considered the villains living their normal lives, while working out ways to murder superheroes? Count me in! I think the best way I can describe this show is that it’s Megamind meats The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy.

If that doesn’t sound incredibly awesome, I don’t know what does! So, the show revolves around the demonic super villain known as Black Hat. Black Hit manages to be both angry and dapper at the same time. Possessing a rather extravagant outfit, but also a violent demeanor underneath. Black Hat is a pretty cool character in all honesty. Most of Black Hat’s devices are created by Dr. Flug, a strange man with a paper bag over his head.

Dr. Flug is my favorite character, due to the fact that I’m a huge fan of the stock mad-scientist character. There’s also Dimencia, an insane girl with anime hair who has the hots for Black Hat. Last and certainly least is the character 5.0.5. He’s generally a boring character, a bland and forgettable adorable mascot character. I guess that’s the point, but the character never really grew on me. Maybe it’s because I feel the whole “adorable and evil-ness cannot co-exist” joke to be extremely overused at this point.

Now, as for the shorts themselves, they are very well put-together. The animation is fantastic, knowing when to be simplistic and when to be super detailed. Character designs really pop, especially due to the slick animation style. Even 5.0.5. who I can’t stand as a character manages to have a style that really pops.

The problem I had with the shorts, and this is really more of a gripe, is that most of them have pretty sudden endings. Most shorts just kind of end, which is the problem when working with such a limited running time. Characters aren’t fleshed out that much beyond the stereotypes they represent, there’s no real development or arcs, and most shorts end as abruptly as they began. It’s not a deal breaker though, especially due to the fact that it’s just a weakness associated with the short’s length.

What Villainous does with its short time frame is give us some funny and likable characters, enjoyable scenarios, and a fantastic art and animation style. It’s not perfect, but it doesn’t have to be. Villainous is a short about admiring the faults within cartoon villains, pastiches of what we deem to be evil. It’s not profound by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s definitely unique and interesting.

So yeah, I definitely enjoyed what I watched. Despite only six minutes worth of animation, this is a fun little series of shorts to watch through. That’s why I can definitely say that this series is as sweet as syrup. Do I recommend it? Of course! I highly recommend and all who read this watch the series once it’s brought to American Cartoon Network. I can’t get the channel sadly, but I urge all those who can to watch CN’s commercials. That’s where these shorts will most likely show up. Right now, everyone needs to show their support for this amazing series. If people do that, then we may get even more shorts or a full series. Anyways, thanks for reading my little diatribe and have a fantastic day. Keep it real and most importantly, keep it evil!

Sweet As Syrup: Digimon Next Manga Review

Good news, everyone! The Digimon marathon starts today. I figured I start off with something Digimon-based that not a lot of people know about. I discussed the Digimon Adventure V-Tamer 01 manga, but have yet to discuss its spiritual successor. You see, there’s been several Digimon manga over the years, but few of them have actually run that long. The second Digimon manga series to run for a fair bit of chapters was Digimon Next.

After finally finish V-Tamer 01, I quickly dived in to this series and read through it in the course of a week. I think it’s about time I cover this series. Is it worth reading or enjoying? Well, in this review I’ll let you know if this older Digimon manga is worth reading or not.

Background Information

Digimon Next was a manga that released a couple months prior to Digimon Savers / Data Squad, which was the newest Digimon anime at that time. The series began in 2006 and ran until 2008. While using similar elements to Savers, Next borrows most from Adventure V-Tamer 01. Much like most Digimon manga, this series never received an American release.

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That’s probably the most badass Greymon I’ve ever seen!

Plot

The story revolves around a young Japanese teenager named Tsurugi Tatano. One day, Tsurugi is whisked off to the Digital World after playing an online game, where he meets up with his partner Agumon. The two start off on a bad foot, but quickly become good friends and reliable allies to one another. Tsurugi quickly becomes friends with a bunch of other humans too, who have also ended up in the Digital World. Tsurugi meets up with other characters like Yuu and Ami, while doing battle with the mysterious “Black Winged Knight”.

While this does sound like it could make for an interesting manga, it sadly does not. The story feels very derivative of the previous Digimon manga. I felt like I was reading most of the same story again, just with different characters. The villain in the motives behind said villain felt like they had been done better in V-Tamer 01. Is it terrible? Of course not! However, the plot never feels like it does anything interesting with the setting.

The problem I find with the manga that it never manages to take the series in a unique direction. It’s stuck taking elements from Savers, without being able to deviate too much from a typical Digimon manga. This bothers me greatly, especially due to the fact that most entries in the Digimon franchise manage to do something unique and interesting with each installment.

Again, it’s not a bad story. It doesn’t feel too rushed or poorly paced, the characters are interesting and like-able enough to stand on their own and it has a decent amount of chapters. On top of this, the finale to the story itself is pretty dang awesome. Regardless, it felt like a bit of a slog to get to that point. I gave up on the manga several times before I could fully finish it. I still enjoyed what I read, despite my qualms.

Artwork

The art for this series was done by the ever amazing Takeshi Okano. This man also helped co-write Hell Teacher Nube, one of my favorite manga and anime series! Okano manages to make character designs really interesting and manages to make the Digimon look really nice. Backgrounds are decent, though some can seem a little bare at times. Action scenes are intense, and Okano manages to pack a ton of fast action into each individual panel.

The art overall really saved this manga for me. While I had difficulties fully getting into the plot, the art-style really hooked me. It managed to combine simplicity with higher detail, creating something that could be considered both cartoon-ish and serious at the same time. It’s an art-style that can invoke a feeling of both excitement and goofiness.

In Conclusion

It’s got a hit-or-miss plot, but rather nice-looking artwork. I say that if you’re cool with a more formulaic Digimon plot, then I think this would be your thing. I recommend reading V-Tamer 01 over this. If you like V-Tamer and want something similar to it, then I can recommend this series to you. I got a decent amount of enjoyment out of this series, so I can definitely say it is sweet as syrup. It’s not perfect, it feels a bit generic, but it manages to capture what I love about Digimon. In the end, that’s all I can really ask for.

Sweet As Syrup: Phantasy Star Portable 2 Review

Last year, I started a marathon on my favorite game series of all time: Phantasy Star. It went on a lot longer than I thought it would, but I enjoyed writing all the posts on it all the same. The last post I did was Phantasy Star related, so I thought I’d follow them up and hopefully finish this marathon at long last! So, let’s start with Phantasy Star Portable 2, one of the best games in the series!

Originally, I was going to review the first Phantasy Star Portable game. I still intend to get to it at some point, but I felt that it was a bit too similar to Phantasy Star Portable 2 and Universe. I’d end up repeating myself a lot, so I figured I would just move onto the second game instead. Phantasy Star Portable 2 is one of my favorite RPGs, and is special to me. It’s the last Phantasy Star game ever released in America, and the newest of the series that I have played. It’s hard to believe that is has nearly been 7 series since this game was brought to American shelves. Without further adieu, let’s dive right into it!

Background Information

Phantasy Star Portable 2 is an action RPG that was released in 2009 in Japan, and brought over to the rest of the world near the end of 2010. The game was released exclusively for the PSP and was developed by Alfa System, who also developed several Tales games. The game received an expansion called Phantasy Star Portable 2 Infinity, but this was released exclusively in Japan and never brought over here.

Plot and Characters

It’s been three years since the events of Universe and peace has returned to the Gurhal system. You play as a mercenary (or former Guardian if you imported your save-file) who is visiting an old derelict relics site. While there, you happen across a young woman named Emilia. After meeting her, you luck suddenly takes a sharp dive as you both become trapped in the ruins. You eventually escape, but not before you bare witness to a strange spirit dwelling inside Emilia.

From there, you are recruited into a mercenary firm called “Little Wing” and are tasked with going on various missions, sometimes ones where you have to protect the galaxy! All the while, you keep encountering a strange teenage boy dressed in black, who also poses a threat to the entire Gurhal system. It’s up to you and your rag-tag group of allies to put a stop to this and protect the galaxy you have made home!

Yeah, it’s a pretty basic plot, to be honest. However, it does incorporate several elements from previous Phantasy Star games, as well as bring back some old characters from Universe. This was intended as the final game in the series (before the expansion pack and phone spinoff came out) and really does feel like a finale for the series. It doesn’t do anything groundbreaking, but it takes a lot of the elements and concepts from previous games and manages to roll with it.

The plot itself is divided into 10 chapters, and may take the player several hours to fully get through. The plot brings the player to various locations, including some taken from previous games. There’s also a great VR-themed level that takes you back to levels from the original Phantasy Star Online! Unfortunately, this variety works against the game, as it will often make the plot feel all over the place. On top of this, the reuse of certain levels makes the game feel a bit too formulaic at times.

Where the game really shines is in its characters. Usually, I can’t stand the generic anime stereotypes often present in Japanese RPGs. While the characters here felt like stereotypes, there was something extremely endearing about how they were written. The father-daughter relationship between Kraz and Emilia felt genuine to me. A hard-ass who drinks a lot taking care of a young girl who acted like a spoil-brat feels like something too common in real-life. It was so heartwarming seeing these characters trying to act as a family unit, despite the bizarre scenarios that often got in their way.

Other characters really stood out to me as well, like the warrior boy Yut, or the French femme fatale known as Chelsea. Lumia Waber, the sister of the protagonist of the first game has returned. She’s probably my favorite character, she went from being a generic happy-go-lucky sister to a no-nonsense tough girl. The only character I found myself not liking at all was the aforementioned Emilia. She was just too obnoxious and a lot of the plot involves our heroes dealing with her hissy-fits. It gets annoying after a while.

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Robots in swim-trunks?! Truly this game has everything.

Gameplay

Much like a lot of the games that came before it, Phantasy Star Portable 2 is an action RPG. You choose from one of four playable races, which are Beasts, CASTs, Newmans, and Humans. Each race has their own specific skills and attributes which makes them more unique than the others. For example, the Beasts are basically werewolves who turn into giant feral creatures to attack their enemies. Each race has a special “limit break” movie that lets them dish out some serious damage once their meter builds up.

Gameplay takes place from a third person perspective, putting you in the boots of a custom created character. You choose from one of four classes which are as follows: Hunter, Force, Ranger, and Vanguard. Each class has their own specific forte, with their own weaknesses and advantages. The game boasts over 30 different types of weapons, with thousands of unique individual weapons. Certain weapons will spawn with elemental attributes or special effects attached. This means that certain weapons can be more effective than others, even if they are generally “weaker” items.

The game takes on a linear mission structure, similar to past Universe and Online games. Each mission will take you about 20 to 30 minutes to complete, and there are a total of about 10 story chapters to complete. The game boasts a ton of optional side-quests and missions, along with a special award system that grants you items based on how many milestones you hit.

You can also upgrade your class and gain special stat bonuses, as well as upgrading the levels of weapons you’re allowed to use. This allows you some degree of customization when it comes to how you want each individual class to function. You can change classes back at Little Wing headquarters, as well as obtain new items and equipment.

Sadly, the classes aren’t too unique when compared to other similar games, or even other games in the series. This is more of a nitpick, but it irks me to see that the classes haven’t really changed all that much from the early days of Phantasy Star Online. It’s something I can live with, I just wish there were new and differing classes, because I feel that would add more variety.

Combat flows very nicely. It all unfolds in third-person, allowing you to attack, dodge, and block. You’ll have to learn to exploit enemy weaknesses, as well as focus on a variety of different weapons in order to win. The game is very tricky, and is not afraid to wipe you out for not playing carefully enough.

One feature I liked was room customization. You are given a room in the game, and tons of different decorations and themes to give it flare. It was fun playing multiplayer with friends and visiting their crazily designed rooms. I’ll get more into the multiplayer aspect in a second, but for now I want to touch on just how much I loved the room creation in this game. There were millions of options on how to decorate your room, with more unlocking as you completed the story. Normally, I hate this kind of thing in games. However, the sheer amount of insane decorations and furnishings you can dress up your room with was astounding.

While customization was a strong point in this game, sadly multiplayer didn’t stack up as well. Games were frequently laggy and slow, with occasional disconnections. I’m not sure if this was just my shoddy internet connection or not, but this was a frequent issue when I played. It gets more annoying when you start doing the special online quests that instantly fail when someone logs off, be it by accident or on purpose.

The online player community wasn’t as good either. I would frequently get into rooms with rather angry individuals or just all around disrespectful people. Not only that, but plays would frequently hack the game in order to max out their level cap. Hacking and cheating was extremely frequent in the game, and the devs did little to circumvent this. It was entirely possible to run into level 200 plays who would die in a couple of hits, which shouldn’t be possible in this game.

While the game did feature a highly improved battle mode, as well as the ability to visit the rooms of other players, this didn’t stop the multiplayer from being a chore at times. It’s sad that I had just as many bad memories with the multiplayer as I did good ones. I’ll be honest, I kind of miss that the online multiplayer is no longer functioning. Overall, I enjoyed the game, despite its various problems. The game’s challenging difficulty level of customization were a plus for me. Sadly, it falls short when it comes to multiplayer. On top of this, gameplay hasn’t changed all that much from previous entries. Despite it feel pretty much the same as old games, it’s refined enough that I can forgive this shortcoming.

Visual Stimuli

The game looks really good, I must say. While the graphics are pretty are definitely compressed to fit on that PSP screen, there’s still enough visual flare to make it look interesting. Voice-acting is okay, nothing too special there. Some voice actors/actresses don’t really pull their weight, and some can be a bit grating at times. A good example of this is Emilia’s voice actress, who sounds like she’s screaming every second line she says.

The voice-acting is decent enough at times, and there’s only real voice-work during the CGI cut-scenes, which don’t show up a whole lot. Still, it can be a bit annoying and distracting to players, especially people like me who play Phantasy Star solely for the gameplay and not the story.

Characters are well designed enough and definitely have a unique flare to them. Most of the main characters differ enough in design to feel like varied individuals, and a lot of the designs have a good look to them. Monster designs are okay, but sadly a lot of the monsters in this game are recycled from previous games. You’ll find yourself running into a lot of old enemies with slightly updated appearances, which can give off a feeling of “Been there, done that”.

Music in this game is fantastic, though again some of it is recycled from previous games. This doesn’t stop the tracks from still being amazing though. Almost each area in the game has a unique backing track to it, that surprisingly never gets old to me. Phantasy Star is a series that has always been known for its awesome music, so it’s hard to really find fault in the soundtrack of any of its games.

In short, I loved the music, character designs, and graphics, but felt that the monster designs and voice-work was a bit flimsy. The game definitely needed some extra polish in those areas, I must say. They aren’t really deal-breakers for me and don’t impact the whole package all that much. Still, the presentation has a tendency to be hit-or-miss at times.

In Summation

Despite its formulaic story, greatly lacking multiplayer (which is now defunct anyways), and recycled design, I still felt this was a fantastic game. Sure, it doesn’t do anything all that unique or groundbreaking, but really managed to refine the game-play of previous Phantasy Star games. Couple this with room customization, thousands of differing weapons to collect, and some really nice graphics, and you have a game that is still fun to play in the modern day.

Just be warned that this game can be very repetitive and grindy, and a single play-through of the main campaign can take many hours to complete. It’s a difficult and very challenging game that can require some careful thinking at times. In all honesty, I’d say this game is a forgotten classic. It isn’t as good as the original Phantasy Star or Phantasy Online games, but it’s still a fantastic game on its own. That’s why I can definitely say that this game is as sweet as syrup. Copies of this game aren’t super easy to find, but I highly recommend playing this game if you can track it down. It’s a fun little dungeon-crawler for PSP and an excellent successor to the Phantasy Star pedigree.

Sweet As Syrup: Toukiden 2 Review

I’ve made it no secret that I love Japanese games, especially ones that play like Monster Hunter. These Monster Hunter “clones” are one of the reasons I started this blog, and to this date dominate the subject of a ton of my posts. So, I thought today I’ll go back and revisit a series I haven’t touched in nearly 2 years. Today I wish to discuss the new Toukiden game, Toukiden 2. Is it better than the original? Did it change anything? Are the fox creatures still cute? Find out in this review!

Also, I’d like to give a shout-out to moco1982, who’s website you can find here. Moco was the one mentioned this game to me, and he’s the reason I got it. I originally had no plans on getting a new Toukiden game, but after both buying and play it, I am extremely glad I did!

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I’m getting some MMO vibes from this…

Background Information

Toukiden 2 was an action RPG made for the PS Vita, PS3 (In Japan only), PS4, and PC. It was released in Japan mid-way through 2016, and was recently released in North America just last month. The game was developed by Omega Force, a company known for their work on Dynasty Warriors and its many spin-offs. The game was published by Tecmo-Koei and is the company’s second attempt at a Hunter-like game series. The company’s first foray into the genre was with the lesser-known title “Dynasty Warriors Strikeforce”.

Plot

The game starts off 10 years before the plot of the main game. You are a soldier, under the command of the great general Kuyo. During an attack by monsters, a gigantic demon appears and sends you tumbling through time into the current day. You arrive a few years after the events of the first game, in a brand new village. The village you’ve arrived in is dealing with various problems, including in-fighting between “Insiders” and “Outsiders”, as well as the ongoing threat posed by the Oni.

Not long into the game, you are introduced to the enigmatic Professor and her machine doll known as “Tokitsugu”. While the game boasts many varied characters, I found these two to be the most interesting and entertaining. I especially love the Professor and her overtly eccentric nature. He was such a blast to have as a supporting character, especially compared to a lot of the bland characters that showed up in the first few games.

While I liked the general setup of the plot, it left a lot to be desired in the long run. The first half of the game presents the in-fighting between the town’s two main factions in a rather realistic and unique light. Their rivalries felt like they had a purpose and showed the two clashing ideologies very well. The problem is that halfway through the game, suddenly a generic antagonist shows up. You can tell he’s the villain and your ultimate threat.

All of this interesting in-fighting and politics gets shoved aside for a generic “Let’s save the world” plot line that feels like they copy-pasted it from the last game. The game’s starting quarrel is resolved haphazardly at the end, while the new plot takes center stage. It feels like the game writers wanted to do two different plots, and both of them got mashed together into this unidentifiable substance.

While I did enjoy that first half of the plot, the forgettable second half really soured the mood for me. It’s not an overtly long main questline, so I never really felt like I stuck trudging through the second half all that much. I feel the game’s plot is just so-so, with two different arcs of varying quality. However, the plot of the game is only one part of the whole package. How does the gameplay hold up?

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Shusuke will forever be remembered at that one guy who got eaten by a giant lizard. Upon his tombstone shall read “Tastes like chicken!”

Gameplay

Toukiden 2 is a game that may be deceiving at first glance. One may think that this is just another Monster Hunter clone, since all of the trappings are there. After all, this is a tird-person action RPG with a focus on slaying monsters and gaining new materials to craft weapons and armor. However, if you thought this was just another generic clone, you’d be mistaken.

Toukiden 2 manages to not only improve on the last two games, but also make some great additions to the genre as a whole! The game now boasts a fully realized open-world! You can now venture across the countryside in order to slay monsters, which is much appreciated. The game starts off by only giving you access to a few sections of the open-world at first, but they gradually open up as you play through the game.

The open-world is littered with a ton of side-quests and different events. Sadly, a lot of the side-quests are just meaningless fetch-quests. Sometimes, you’ll find a quest that does expand the lore a bit, but those are few and far between. Some side-quests can feel a bit tedious as well, especially the one at the start of the game which sends you out to look for three brothers, all scattered about across the land.

One annoyance that I found with the new open-world system, is the “Miasma” system. You see, early into the game you are sent into the Other-World. This is a dimension where demons reside, and as a result it’s filled with deadly miasma. Too much of it will instantly kill your character on the spot. Normally, this is easy to work around. You’ll usually have enough time to get to where you need to be long before the miasma takes you. On top of this, there are ways to purify your body and slow down the miasma gauge.

So, what’s the problem then? The problem comes with the exploration of the Other-World itself. You see, the game doesn’t have any real indication that you are about to go over your miasma level, aside from the gauge itself. This means you need your eyes trained on the corner of the screen at all times, which can get annoying. This can be especially troublesome if you’re running through an area where the miasma is high and run out of stamina. You see, when the miasma meter turns red, your stamina loses its regenerate. This means that once you enter these areas and are far enough in, you won’t be able to run back out in time to save yourself. This can make exploring the Other-World quite a chore.

The open-world also introduces special events called “Joint Operations”. During these missions, you’ll stumble across a Slayer or a fox-like creature known as a “Tenko”. After doing these Joint Operations, you’ll be joined by either of these beings. Slayers will only follow you temporarily, but will act as a fifth party member of your team. This can help in more difficult battles, when needing a fifth party member feels like a necessity.

Upon being rescued, Tenkos will leave the field and go over to your house. At that point, you can feed them and even change their voices or pelt color. They can even join you on missions, though they can’t actually attack anything. You can even equip them with Mitama that will give you extra bonuses in combat. Joint Operations are something that I felt was overall fairly rewarding. They were nice little instances that let you acquire temporary allies, or even adorable pets. I especially liked the changes made to the Tenko system, who were originally only there to gather items in the first two games.

That begs the question, who gathers items for you now? Well, in this game you are given Machina Dolls. They are like the Tenkos from the first game, but have the ability to be upgraded. At the start of the game, Machina Dolls will be nearly useless. They will fail missions 9 times out of 10, unless you fully upgrade them. This means a lot of material farming if you want your Machina in tip-top shape. Speaking of farming, the game mostly avoids this. Aside from upgrading Machina, I never really found myself farming for items and materials all that much.

Now, let’s discuss the main selling point of this game: The combat. The combat remains mostly unchanged from the past 2 games. There are a few new weapon types, and each new weapon gains a few new attacks. Battles still playing in the third-person, with you and 3-4 allies going up against monsters of varying sizes. The game sadly doesn’t introduce a whole lot of new bosses. Sure there are some mini-bosses, and about a dozen new bosses, but the game still feels lacking when it comes down to opponents. This is even more annoying when you take into account the fact that a lot of bosses from Kiwami didn’t make the cut.

Some of my favorite monsters from Kiwami, such as Metagnost and Mynx are noticeably absent. This is even more annoying when you realize that most of the cut bosses are available only as DLC. Worse still, they are only available in purchasable missions, and never appear in the open-world itself. While the game does introduce some new bosses, the variety just feels lacking.

What does add variety is the various weapons and ways to approach combat. With 11 different weapon types, it’s not hard to find something that will fit your play-style. The developers took this one step further and added in a sort of sub-weapon called a “Demon Hand”. The Demon Hand allows you to latch onto enemies and pull them towards you, or smash them into the ground. The Demon Hand can lead to some great combat tactics and feels like a fantastic addition to the game!

Another new feature added to combat is that you can now completely destroy the limbs of giant demons. While it’s true that in previous games you could chop the limbs off of an enemy, they would create a translucent duplicate that acts as a replacement. This meant that no matter how many limbs you cut off, they would simply grow back. However, with the Demon Hand, you can now completely eradicate the limbs of an enemy demon! It’s almost kind of heartbreaking to watch a giant demon spider flail about with no limbs. Then you remember that these demons have exterminated a fair portion of the human race, and all of that pity just disappears.

Last thing I want to talk about is the hub-town. This place is gigantic, and I love it! It’s got some unique looking buildings, but also houses a variety of fun and interesting NPCs. Activities from previous games are all available here, such as the Pool of Purity, or the various item shops available to player. There isn’t a whole lot for the player to do here, but the fact the player needs to use the services provided here gives you an excuse to return back to town when you can.

I generally felt the gameplay was a step up from the first two games. While combat remains mostly the same, I found the addition of things like the new weapon types and Demon Hands to be a welcome change. The open world introduced by this game feels vast and unique, despite the fact that it feels woefully underpopulated in terms of unique monsters. The miasma system can also be a nuisance at times, as well. Generally though, I felt that the game really shined in what it was trying to accomplish. It’s an open world RPG where you hunt monsters, and I feel it delivered on those elements despite its shortcomings.

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Howl’s Moving Castle, eat your heart out!

Visual Stimuli

The game looks pretty good, primarily on Vita. I haven’t played the other versions, so I’m basing all my opinions off of this iteration. Honestly, everything looks pretty good and is well-designed. Faces can look a bit weird at times during CGI cut-scenes though. The Professor’s face in particular always looked strangely alien to me during these scenes, as if we weren’t meant to see her in such detail. I can’t really put my finger on it, she just gives off an uncanny valley look.

The music is decent, but it’s nothing that will really stick with you after playing the game. There’s nothing super heart-pounding when it comes to the soundtrack, nothing that really feels too grandiose. It’s good enough that its easy to listen to, but it’s more than likely none of it will get stuck in your head.

The game uses the Japanese audio track, and they do their job very well. I especially love Tokitsugu’s voice and how well his voice actor emotes. Oddly enough, I’m glad this game series doesn’t have English audio. It feels natural to have all of these Japanese characters speak in their native language. Characters are well designed and look nice, with lots of them varying wildly in appearance. There was never a character in the game that I felt looked exactly like the other. Likewise, I enjoyed the visual flair given to each piece of armor in the game. This allowed the armors to look very different from each other, and made them feel wholly unique.

The game runs pretty well most of the time. It caps at about 30 frames per second on the Vita, and runs smoothly with little lag. I have noticed several glitches or bugs in the game, but nothing game-breaking. A glitch that really annoyed me was one that made it so characters don’t appear right away. You have no idea how annoying it is to go to the blacksmith, only to have him mysteriously absent with no explanation.

While the game does have some performance issues here or there, it wasn’t anything that soured the mood too much. Designs were varied, even if some of them looked a bit awkward during CGI cut-scenes. All in all, I felt the production values for this game were great, despite the shortcomings. Koei and Omega Force will definitely have to polish the game up more for when they eventually come out with Toukiden 3.

 

In Conclusion

The game was good, and a definite improvement over its predecessors. It adds an open world, some new gameplay mechanics, as well as some elements to help crafting be less of a chore. However, it does have some graphical issues and bugs, a lack of new and original bosses, and a story that’s too short and unfocused. The big question is this: Is this game as sweet as syrup? I find it hard to say if it is or isn’t. It’s a great game, but it certainly has issues.

I enjoyed my time with the game and still play it, but I still have trouble saying that it was as sweet as syrup or not. I recommend this game to people who like Monster Hunter or games that play like it. I especially recommend this game to people who always wanted to play an open-world version of Monster Hunter. However, I feel like people who don’t play these kinds of games may not get as much enjoyment out of them. In short: Great game, but difficult to recommend.

Sweet As Syrup: Mass Effect 1 Review

One of my favorite genres of media are sci-fi, which is a little redundant to say. After all, isn’t there a stereotype about all nerds loving sci-fi? Regardless, it’s always been a unique subject for anyone to handle and it makes for some truly unique and memorable experiences in any form of media. However, I’ve always felt sci-fi was best depicted in videogame form. It’s really the only form of media that sends you into these bizarre sci-fi worlds, allowing you to live the life of an intrepid space adventurer, or a cosmic bounty hunter. Scenarios like this make sci-fi videogames very palatable indeed.

I think that’s why I gravitate towards Mass Effect so much, it really captures that feel of adventuring in space. It’s hard to find an RPG experience as solid and entertaining as the original Mass Effect. An open-world RPG that puts you in the cool-looking space armor of Commander Shepherd. Why do I love this game so much when compared to the other games in the series? Well, you’ll find out right here in this review!

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Politics have never felt so… Alien.

Background Information

Mass Effect was a game developed by prolific game developer Bioware, and was released in 2007. Bioware’s idea behind the title was to create their own sci-fi universe and game to go along with it. Bioware had previously done work on Star Wars: Knights of The Old Republic, and wanted to try their hand at a completely original property. Thus, the Mass Effect series was born. Mass Effect 1 was released to critical acclaim and ended up selling half a million copies in the span of a few months. Since then, Mass Effect has become a staple of the company and is one of Bioware’s best-selling franchises.

Plot and Setting

Mass Effect is set in a sci-fi universe that draws a lot of elements from both the real-world, as well as cosmic horror. Sprinkle in some more generalized science-fiction elements, and you have the making of what is essentially a universe that both feels real and feels very alien. This mixture creates something wholly unique, giving the player access to various star systems to fully explore as well as many adventures to undertake. Mass Effect did what few games before it have managed to do: Make you feel like a true star-ship captain in a world rife with both exploration and danger.

The game itself puts you in the shoes of Commander Shepherd, a protagonist who the player can fully customize. Shepherd is about to become the first human “Spectre” ever, a proud member of the Federation and one of the special few who are given full access to travel the galaxy. Unfortunately, during a routine mission on Eden-Prime, everything goes horribly wrong. A Taurian Spectre ends up dead, robotic entities once thought gone return, and an entirely new threat rears its ugly head.

It is up to Shepherd to take up the mantle of Spectre, form a team of various alien species, and do battle against forces that threaten the galaxy. I’m oversimplifying the plot quite a bit, as I don’t want to spoil too much of it. Mass Effect 1 has one of the best RPG stories I’ve seen in a game, and something that truly feels unique. The most unique pull of this game is player choices.

The story and outcomes of certain side-quests and events hinge on player choice. While most major events will remain the same no matter the choice, certain choices during the game will affect how people view you. Characters in the game will make reference to your behavior in certain scenarios. For example, Admiral Hackett will give you a firm scolding if you decide to punch out the female reporter. Another example is that you’ll have access to a ton of extra side-quests if you decide to spare everyone when saving this one colony from a mind-controlling plant. It’s stuff like this that makes the player feel more like an important person in this fictional galaxy.

The story isn’t perfect though, it has a large amount of flaws that I’ve taken notice of. Dialogue scenes are usually fairly awkward, with characters barely moving around at all. It seems like almost all NPCs share 4 or 5 different animations, causing them to feel more like robots than aliens. Also, I was annoyed by how almost all allies you can get in the game are acquired on either Eden-Prime or The Citadel. This is kind of annoying, since it means you’ll get 5 out of 6 possible party members right out of the gate.

Most RPGs make it so you acquire your party over the course of the game. Giving the play almost all of them within the first two hours feels a bit like overload. After all, we were just introduced to this world and setting. Having all of these party members available to the player just feels like overload. It just seems excessive, is all. Another problem with the story is that it often sends you on missions that don’t feel relevant to the story at all. You’ll be sent on missions that feel more like filler than anything else, ones that feel like they don’t factor into the overarching narrative. This makes the plot feel rather padded at times, which is something I wasn’t a fan of.

Despite the fluff and somewhat awkward intro, the game has a pretty good plot overall. It’s entertaining enough to keep you invested in the 20-40 hours you’ll spend playing this game. Just be warned that the game’s story doesn’t have the best pacing and that it’s awkward character animations may stand in the way of you getting fully immersed in this world.

Gameplay

I’ll say this outright: Mass Effect 1 is one of the few games I’ve played that have managed to expertly weave elements of role-playing games with third-person shooters to a masterful degree. It ain’t perfect and it’s got a lot of problems, but it’s still a good mixture of what makes both genres great. Allow me to go into detail on what I mean. Mass Effect is an RPG by nature and a third-person shooter by design. Combat often takes place in locations that may seem generic, but manage to feel like locations you’d see in an actual sci-fi universe.

You are given full control over Shepherd during combat, at which point the game plays like a typical third-person shooter. You can take cover behind objects to avoid bullets, fire back at your enemies using a multitude of different fire-arms, or use special abilities unique to your class. That’s right, the game boasts over 6 classes with a focus being on weapons, technology, or Biotics. Weapons and tech are self-explanatory, while Biotics are basically this game’s equivalent of magic. You can use Biotic powers to fling enemies around, throw them high into the air, or even freeze them in place. I honestly enjoyed playing as Biotic so much that every time I played the game, I made sure I chose a class that had some kind of focus on it.

While in combat, you are also aided by two allies. Unfortunately, their AI is pretty dumb, so their only real purpose is soaking up the hits for you. You can bark orders at them using the radial menu, but even then that doesn’t stop them from being stupid beyond all reason. Very often, your allies will charge ahead and get completely curb-stomped before you can ever fire a bullet. The enemy AI tends to be better, but it depends more on the kind of opponents you’re facing. Robots are easy to take out, since they barely take cover and can easily be destroyed by tech-oriented classes. On the other hand, Krogans are like walking tanks that can easily wreck you if they get the chance.

One of the most annoying aspects of gameplay comes in the form of the game’s various side-quests. Several side-quests help flesh out the world quite a bit, including introducing and focusing on concepts and characters that won’t become important until the sequels. On the other hand, most side-quests are meaningless fetch quests or obnoxious collection quests. The game has way too many collection quests, most of which are scattered all over the galaxy. So, you either need to scour every planet for the relics and dog-tags you need, or read through a walkthrough. I somehow managed to complete the one on The Citadel where you have to find and scan all the Keepers, who are bunch of bug-like aliens. This took me somewhere close to 2 hours, just because of how scattered these little critters are.

Another major problem is with the open-world exploration this game touts. You see, you can beam down and land on over 20 planets in this game, and explore a fair bit of the planet’s surface. The problem is that most planets are vacant with an extreme absence of life, very little activities to do on said planet, and are almost always difficult to navigate. The exploration becomes a chore due to the way the Normandy controls. It seems to spaz about uncontrollably with a mere tilt of the game’s camera. As a result, it becomes an arduous task to even drive in a straight line. God help you if you’re on a planet like Nodacrux, which is full of mountains that are nearly impossible for the Mako to properly traverse.

The game’s RPG elements are definitely the shining point in the gameplay department. There are tons of different weapons, armor, and upgrades to collect. Sadly, the inventory system is extremely chaotic. Choosing skills for both you and your party members and upgrading them the way you want is extremely satisfying. Sadly, few RPGs nowadays incorporate classic tropes like this anymore.

I felt the combat and exploration to be a bit sub-standard, but I definitely dug what the game was trying to do with its RPG elements. Talking to people, roleplaying as a space captain, and adventuring my way across the galaxy felt satisfying. Too bad the satisfaction was also offset with a lot of frustration when it came to driving controls and AI programming. Regardless, this game did a fantastic job of drawing me in with its gameplay.

Visual Stimuli

The game looks great for its time and has aged remarkably well. Sure, character animations can be a bit stiff and repetitive, but the amazing voice acting brings their wooden emotions to life. This game boasts the voice-acting chops of veterans like Jennifer Hale, Keith David, Mark Meer, and even Lance Henrikson! Heck, even Seth Green sounded great as the wise-cracking Joker. That’s saying a lot coming from a guy who doesn’t enjoy Green’s work all that much.

The music is great and sounds very atmospheric. It manages to capture vibes of both sci-fi and horror, while at the same time managing to sound unique and futuristic. The effects are okay, but lack a bit of punch at times. Some of the sound effects really got on my nerves though, especially the one that sounds whenever you equip something. Still, some awkward sound effects here and they never really got in the way of me enjoying the game itself.

In Summation

Mass Effect 1 is a great game and classic, but not without some major problems. This comes in the form of both the game’s somewhat archaic design philosophy, coupled with a company’s first attempt at blending FPS and RPG game-play styles together. What we have is a well-constructed game, that lacks polish in the gameplay department. Couple that with awkward character animations, and a crappy inventory system, you get a game that normally would be a chore to play through.

Luckily though, Mass Effect wins you over with its charm and its unique take on the sci-fi genre. It doesn’t feel like just another game that’s trying to be Star Wars or Star Trek, it feels like a game that is trying to surpass it. It may lack polish and refinement, but it’s definitely classy enough to remain relevant, even years after its release. It’s not a perfect game, nor is it some kind of “Ultimate Super Special Masterpiece”.

It’s a great game with a solid team behind it, who poured their passion and soul into this product. That’s why I can say without a doubt that this game is as sweet as syrup. However, I recommend it more for people who are fans of RPGs. If you’re a third-person shooter guy, you probably won’t enjoy this game too much. There are much better alternative for FPS games out there, but you’d be hard-pressed to find an action RPG out there that is as enjoyable and well-written as this game.

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.

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!

Sweet as Syrup: Dragon Ball Fusions Review

I know I’ve been talking about Dragon Ball an awful lot on this blog, but it’s a series I find myself being drawn back into by the newer games and shows. Even though I have voiced my distaste for the new Dragon Ball anime, I still found myself enjoying the show in a “so bad it’s good” kind of way. However, a month ago I received this awesome gift from my good friend 92Days. It was a Dragon Ball game that I had never played before, but heard was awesome.

This was Dragon Ball Fusions, a game that had blown up Japan and did moderately well. I’m a huge fan of Dragon Ball and thought this would be the perfect game to write up a review on. I want to tackle other DB games in the future, such as the Legacy of Goku games, as well as the Origins series. For now, let’s start with one of the newest titles: Dragon Ball Fusions!

Background Information

Dragon Ball Fusions was a turn-based RPG for the 3DS family of consoles. It was released on August in Japan, and November in America. The game is has one of the highest number of playable characters in any Dragon Ball game ever made, with the exception of Dragon Ball Heroes and Dragon Ball: Dokkan Battle. The game sold very well in Japan, but failed to be successful in America due to an extreme lack of advertising.

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Weird self-insert Dragon Ball characters: The Videogame

Plot

The game starts in an unknown year in Dragon World (The primary setting of the series) and focuses on two youths. These two young men are Tekka (Who’s appearance, name, and abilities are up to the player to choose) and a Saiyan named Pinich. You are best friends with Pinich, though the game never goes into detail on how you met or how you know him. You’re just kind of friends because… Reasons.

Anyway, the two of you summon Shenron in order to wish for the ultimate martial arts tournament. Unfortunately, the wish goes wrong and all of the various realities and timelines of the Dragon Ball universe become merged into one. This includes the original Dragon Ball show, Z, GT, Super, as well as fair amount of the movies. Your main character is partnered with four other characters: Pan, Kid Goku, Goten, and Trunks.

Of course, you’ll obtain hundreds of other characters, but these will be your starting teammates. They will also appear in all cutscenes, even if they aren’t in your party. The teammates themselves feel very developed for a kids game and the writers of this game pay very close attention to detail. A lot of the entertainment value of the plot comes with how the characters work off of each other. The interactions lead a lot of in-jokes that long-time fans will get a kick out of.

Having all these different versions of all these classic characters interacting with each other adds a fair bit of depth and comedy to the proceedings. However, I couldn’t help but feel the story felt a bit formulaic. I appreciated that there wasn’t any hamstrung morals shoved in my face, but I still couldn’t shake the feeling that the plot felt underdeveloped. It’s simple and easy to follow, but it’s a bit of a double-edged sword. It’s almost too simplistic, yet remains entertaining throughout.

Still, the plot was enjoyable for it was. It was silly, nonsensical, and somewhat short, but had a lot of heart to it. The game developers put a lot of thought into making a living-breathing world that encapsulated all of the various Dragon Ball universes, and I’d say that they succeeded hands-down! However, the story is just the appetizer when it comes to what I look for in a game. Time to move on to the main course!

Gameplay

Dragon Ball Fusions is by nature an open-world strategy RPG, a turn-based RPG that focuses on you building a party and having them do battle with other teams. I’m not usually a fan of this king of RPG, however Dragon Ball Fusions managed to get me both interested and invested in its gameplay and world. The game’s combat is primarily focused on having teams of 5 fighting each other. You control a party of 5, as does the opponents you go up against.

Battles take place from an isometric view. You control each party member individually, as does your opponent. The speed of each individual character determines when their move comes up next, relative to their teammates and opponents. This means having a higher speed gives you a combat advantage when compared to your opponents. When it’s your turn, you are a given variety of options of how to proceed. You can do melee attacks, ki blasts, special attacks, or even unique abilities that are specific to the character you play as. This adds a lot of much needed variety to the characters and combat, and having the right blend of characters and special attacks can guarantee you a victory.

There are three different types to consider when choosing which characters to attack with: Speed, Power, and Technique. These different types are strong and weak against the others, in a sort of rock-paper-scissors formation. Sadly, you’ll rarely ever need to take the type advantages into consideration when playing the main game and most of its side-content. Usually, certain attacks and abilities are going to guarantee you victory no matter the type.

The combat sadly lacks balance. Certain moves can just decimate your opponent (such as Energy Burst or Full Power Kamehameha) and this can lead to a lot of enemies overpowering your team using cheap tactics. The unbalanced combat unfortunately makes the game’s online multiplayer a bit problematic as well. The lack of balance turns strategic online battles into games of “Who can turn into a Super Saiyan first?”. Online multiplayer also has a tendency to chug like crazy whenever you perform a Zenkai Attack or Ultra Fusion. This immense amount of lag causes online play to move at a snail’s pace.

The biggest draw of the game is the EX Fusion system. In Dragon Ball, fusions were usually only limited to certain characters. Fusions were always used sparingly and were almost entirely useless most of the time. EX Fusions are different, as they allow you to fuse all sorts of characters to together. Your custom main character can fuse with anyone, while all the other characters in the game are limited to fusing with specific characters. Fusing two characters together can generate a substantially more powerful character, but other times it can hold back a particularly strong character. It’s a pretty unique system that allows for flexibility, and allows you mix and match to your heart’s content.

The game has over 1000 characters to obtain, if you include EX fusions and Ultra Fusions. Ultra Fusions are simply limit breaks that involve you fusing all 5 of your party members together. While you can do some serious damage with this attack, it also leaves you wide open after you use it. Then there is the crux of this entire game: EX Fusions. This gives the game a lot of replay value, as you’ll find yourself collecting characters long after the credits have rolled. While I like the EX Fusion system, I won’t deny that it has some problems. For one thing, if you want to de-fuse a character, you have to go through the arduous task of reassigning the specials moves to each specific character. This slows down the EX Fusion process considerably, and often causes me to ignore the system entirely.

Another problem with EX Fusion is that some of the fusions look downright ugly, especially the ones involving the generic NPCs. You’re bound to create some freaky abominations while playing this game, which is kind of fun in a way. What isn’t fun is the fusion process itself. Some fusions are so ludicrously difficult to get, sometimes involving you jump through some rather large hoops. Some fusions require you beat the 100 man tournament, or complete all 16 quizzes at the quiz house. That’s not even bringing into account all the fusions that require characters have a specific special move to use. It’s so hard finding that right special move, especially when you really need it.

The game has a wide variety of special moves available to the player, a lot of which can vary up the gameplay a lot. These moves also act as equipment, with certain moves providing buffs to the character who equips it. Unfortunately, storing these moves and saving them for later is a terrible ordeal. The game provides a bank that can only hold 30 special moves, making it near impossible to build a massive library. There’s no way to expand this bank, so you are stuck with a special move bank that can barely hold any special moves.

One of my favorite elements of this game is the character customization. While the options you can choose for your characters are limited, you can still customize a fair bit of how he/she will look. You can also obtain different sets of clothing in game and then tweak their color to your heart’s content. You can also change your character’s appearance even more through EX Fusion, allowing your character to take on a whole heap of wacky appearances.

While the game does feature a wealth of content, the story mode is insanely short. Most of your gameplay experience will mostly involve the post-game content you’ll partake in after the main quest is done. In a way, this makes Dragon Ball Fusions a giant sandwich, with two thin bread slices of story content and the rest being the juicy slabs of meat that act as the game’s filler. I have no problem with this, I just wish the main quest was a bit longer.

Visual Stimuli

This game looks amazing! This game has some of the best graphics you’ll ever see in a 3DS game. It has stunning visuals, though lacks the 3D features often associated with a game on this console. The voice acting is pretty good, though I could never fully get into it. I never grew up with the Japanese voice acting team, so hearing them speak through my favorite Dragon Ball characters was a bit odd.

The soundtrack for this game was fantastic, truly a delight to my earbuds. Songs sounded like something you’d hear from the show and the game knew just when to use them at the right time. The game performs well, though the aforementioned online mode isn’t stable at all. It’s possible to get kicked out randomly before you can reach an opponent to fight.

Honestly, I think the presentation is the strongest part of this game. While I was iffy on the gameplay and plot, I felt that the way the game looked really won me over. Never before have I seen a game that was made for a handheld that filled me with such glee. Couple this with the amazing soundtrack and good voice-acting, and you definitely have a winning combo!

In Summation

I’m conflicted on this game. While it’s true that it has great graphics and a fun and unique combat system, it fell into the trap of being too repetitive and slow. Fights dragged out for far too long and the plot felt devoid of the creative energy that helped the power the series for so long. Despite this, I found the game to be a pleasure to play. Heck, I loved it so much that I’ve nearly 100% completed it, which is something I never do with RPGs!

It’s got a lot of heart to it and its immense amount of characters and quests managed to win me over. Despite its many flaws, I can definitely say that Dragon Ball Fusions is as sweet as syrup. I only really recommend this game to fans of strategy RPGs and Dragon Ball. I don’t think there’s enough here for fans who are unfamiliar with the franchise. Still, if you like the grindy nature of something like Dragon Quest mixed with the silliness of Dragon Ball, then this is something you need to play.