Monday, 30 November 2015

Gocco of War: If You Like PSO, You Need to Try This

If there's one online, lobby-based game that will always hold a special place in my heart it's Phantasy Star Online and all of the subsequent follow ups that it got. I just loved logging into the hub cities, picking up a quest, finding some people to do it with, then heading out to smack around monsters, get items and materials, then find ways to improve existing equipment or get new gear. It's a simple process, but very enjoyable.

Sadly, nowadays Sega doesn't seem to think Westerners want to play PSO games, so we're stuck patching PSO2 so that it's in English since it looks like the game will never get an official release in this region. Sega's gonna Sega, so we're left fending for ourselves.

Recently, however, an interesting little game just showed up on Steam called Gocco of War, and it hits all of the right buttons for fans of Phantasy Star Online. It's a lobby-based co-op game where players pick-up a quest, then warp to the zone its in, shoot / stab all of the baddies, complete mission objectives, and get various materials from chests strewn throughout the area. When the quest is completed, you'll get some bonus gold, some badges, and get plopped back in the hub city.

From there it's a question of hopping right into the next quest, going to the shop to buy stuff, or depositing the materials at the crafting vendor where you can combine them to either make rarer materials, articles of clothing and so forth, or consuming them to upgrade weapons. These all cost gold as well, but the basic gist is that players get to craft quite a lot of stuff through trial and error between missions. A lot of it is aesthetic, but it's fun nonetheless.

Clothing is pretty much just there for looks as far as I can tell. The only things that affect combat are upgrading weapons and equipping badges that are rewarded at the end of the quests. Badges actually help a fair bit and players can have more than one on at a time. It's a bit of a grind to get them all (something that I'm nowhere near doing yet), as there are 1,600 of them and they are rewarded somewhat randomly after finishing a quest based on performance and the difficulty setting selected when at the quest giver.

When on missions, combat can be toggled between ranged and melee. Personally, I prefer to stick with guns so to keep enemies at a safe distance, and only go melee when I'm getting swarmed and using my sword is the only viable option. Melee does hit for more damage all things being equal, but there is more risk involved.

The nice thing is that this is totally co-op, though, with both an online and offline mode. When online you select a lobby to go to, each capping at 32 players, then when on a quest a total of four players can go together. When in the quest, you get to share rewards, so there isn't any bickering about who gets what. Just hop in, blast stuff, have a good time, and call it a day afterward. If you want to play offline for whatever reason, that's perfectly viable as well. When doing these quests, you'll often find NPCs that will come along and help, so you can still get some wingmen for the mission. It's very carefree and enjoyable regardless of playing online with others or going offline by one's self.

Aesthetically, it's a very cute game with characters sporting a decidedly chibi look, bright colors, and monsters that look almost like plush toys. The music compliments this as well with bouncy, happy tunes playing in the background. It reminds me of something that I'd expect to see during the height of the PlayStation 2's popularity in this regard, and given that it's one of my favorite consoles, I'm just fine with that. My only qualm right now with the visuals is that the frame rate needs work. As it stands, it's a little choppy. The developers are constantly making tweaks to the game, and they've said that 60FPS is on the to-do list, so I'm hopeful this will be addressed soon, as it's about the only thing in Gocca of War that bothers me at the moment.

In the end, though, I'm quite impressed with this game from what time I've spent with it. As someone who really, really likes PSO, this game is a welcome entry on Steam. It's nice that the developers are continuing to support it and there's even plans to add new quests and zones in the future, so there could be even more to do. For now, though, I'm content to enjoy the co-op experience while farming materials to doll out my character. If you consider yourself a fan of Phantasy Star Online, it's well worth trying out Gocco of War. It's the closest thing to a spiritual successor to PSO that I've seen in years.

Sunday, 29 November 2015

Some Thoughts: Age of Ishtaria (Android / iOS)

It looks like it's happened. I may have become a bit of a filthy casual. Earlier in the year, I'd picked up a small tablet on the cheap and hadn't been doing much with it besides streaming anime while playing Final Fantasy XIV on my laptop. A couple of weeks ago, though, I got curious about the games I could play on the thing so went and installed a bunch. Mostly RPGs and strategy games, mostly of the gatcha variety, and mostly with a suspiciously anime-inspired artistic motif.

There were a few that managed to hold my attention. Terra Battle is neat, Chain Chronicle has its moments, and Dragon Blaze seems alright, but the majority of my time up until now has been spent playing Age of Ishtaria. Surprisingly, it's by the same studio that developed Bravely Default Flying Fairy. I wasn't aware that they were doing mobile games since it's a realm of gaming that I've not paid much attention to before now.

Not surprisingly, it's a very simple game where one collects cards which act as the player's party characters and one embarks on a very simplified RPG. You go through one dungeon after the next which is just a straight line with a few points along the way marketed as a circle where players fight a group of monsters. Dungeon maps actually look more like subway maps because of this. So far the majority of dungeons I've been through have been ones with five encounters before completing them, but now that I'm hitting somewhat higher levels the places are capping around six or seven.

I think the main reason I keep playing this game is for the part where I can get new cards and the anticipation to see what the game gives me. Cards are divided into seven ranks, 1-star to 7-star, where 1 is the weakest and 7 is the strongest. So, seeing what one gets can be pretty exciting. Will I get something with five or so stars or a bunch of duds? More than likely you won't get much about a five, but the fun of getting new cards is still there. It actually reminds me of the only thing I like about Hearthstone: opening new packs. There's something about the process that taps into people's basic pleasure centers for getting shiny new things.

The cards themselves can be leveled up and enhanced in various ways, but it can get pretty grindy. For leveling, this is done by picking the card that you want to level up, then choosing other cards that will be sacrificed as XP toward said card. The game also gives various grimoires that can be used for the same purpose. You'll be doing this a lot throughout the game, pouring trash cards that you receive in dungeons toward leveling others that are actually valuable. Cards can also be enhanced by combining two of the same card, which raises it to a new tier, making it more powerful.

This is all well and good, but the problem comes in trying to get multiples of the six and seven star cards. It's hard enough to get one. Getting a second or third requires the stars to align just so. Up until now, I've managed to get one of each and I have a feeling that it's only because there was a thing going on where there was a special promotion going on that allegedly bumps up the likelihood of getting one of these by about 10X. Even then, I did this twice and on only one of these occasions did I get anything good. The really fancy cards don't exactly grow on trees in Age of Ishtaria. The publisher does throw players a bone occasionally, having recently given everyone a seven star card to celebrate two million downloads of the game, as well as another high rank card for signing in for a certain amount of days but this isn't terribly common.

They don't feel absolutely necessary from what I've played, though, and going into a dungeon with a well put together deck of 5-star characters is very doable, especially if you level them up a fair bit. Nonetheless, the higher end cards are nice to have and once they get going they can hit like a truck.

The things' designs definitely go the titillation route as most of the characters are of the well-endowed anime girl variety with the occasional lolita complex jail bait tossed in. There are a few male characters as well but they don't come up often and seem to have a thing for wearing glasses. I almost feel compelled to hold on to those cards just to make sure that there's at least a couple of guys amidst the legions of comely lasses that the game keeps throwing at me.

When it comes to the actual combat, things are very simple. All one needs to do is decide what combination to have the party members attack in.  They'll be divided into three classes and the order in which they strike will impact the enemies in different ways doing things like making them lighter for better juggling, reducing their defenses for a turn, or making them attack for less. With this it becomes a race to take down the monsters as fast as one can, as they have a clock icon with a number next to it indicating how many turns until they attack. In some cases, if they aren't dealt with quickly, this could lead to powerful enemies really putting a dent in a party's hit points. So, it's all about efficiency during battles.

Occasionally, characters will use special abilities that make this a lot easier but they are by and large RNG and you don't have much control as to when they're unleashed. Each character has one special that actually can be used when their portrait begins to glow, but even the glowing is RNG so there's no way to completely escape it. Still, the abilities get used with a reasonable amount of frequency once a character learns it, so they are still quite useful.

What surprised me is how much all of this sucked me in. It's so simple, but I do enjoy firing the game up for a little bit each night so that I can stomp through some dungeons, level up my party to support more / better cards, level up said card, and earn points to get new cards. The whole thing just taps right into a very primal element of my psyche all while being conveniently ensconced in an anime veneer. It just makes for a nice time waster when I'm too tired to do anything else at the end of the night. Now I'm left wondering if this will just turn into a slippery slope where I start really diving down the rabbit whole that is Japanese gatcha games.

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Golden Time Anime Review

It's one of those things that have plagued anime and JRPGs for years: a cast of characters in their teens. Sure, it makes them into people that a sizable proportion of viewers can project themselves into, but given the frequency with which it happens I can't blame people for angrily looking at the phenomenon as being a bit trope-like. These days there are so many shows that take place in high schools. We have magic schools, mech pilot schools, zombie schools, normal schools, you name it, all littered with 15-18 year olds going about their business. The saturation is pretty bad.

This is a big reason why I decided to check out Golden Time, as it takes place in university. No robots, aliens, or anything like that, just a contemporary post secondary institution with some 20 somethings becoming adults. It was a very nice change of pace with its combination of being a slice of life and romantic comedy, although the first half of the series was definitely much better than the second, but not enough to ruin the show. The characters kept my attention throughout and the humour was fairly well done, making me overlook the shows foray into the supernatural.

The show centers around a guy named Tada Banri who is in his first year of university as he makes new friends, goes to classes and winds up encountering one Kouko Kaga who is stalking her childhood sweetheart, Mitsuo. He just so happens to be in Tada's law class and one of the first friends he makes at the school. Over time, Kouko finally takes the hint that Mitsuo isn't at all interested in her, but she hangs out with Tada a lot and the two become an item. However, we quickly learn that Tada suffered a serious head injury in his hometown after graduating high school, took a year off, has amnesia, and cannot remember anything about his past. While things are going well at university and with Kouko, there's a good chance that one of his other friends, Linda, may actually have been his girlfriend in high school before he lost his memory, though she's mentioned nothing of this to Tada. So, quickly, the story becomes a hybrid college slice of life drama with a love triangle thrown in.

Since Golden Time involves college students, it does make for a nice change of pace from the scores of other series that would likely tackle all of this in a high school setting. You do get the sense that everyone is enjoying their lives while going to university, as it is often the case in Japan. High school is a lot more focused on education to get into a good college, but once one gets there things relax considerably since it's viewed by many as a last hurrah before entering the work force where everything gets very serious and very busy very quickly. Banri, Kouko, et al do seem to be enjoying themselves and watching them do their thing is quite relaxing.

Kouko herself takes a little bit of getting used to as she comes off as very aggressive and obsessive, especially in the early episodes where she's still stalking Mitsuo. Once she gives up on him and starts getting closer to Banri, Kouko becomes far more tolerable. She winds up being a bit clingy with Banri too, but not to the point of her being annoying to the viewer, and it becomes clear that she has her own insecurities driving this to an extent which helps explain her behavior, making it more acceptable.

Meanwhile, Linda is very much a level-headed, down to earth woman. She's pretty much the polar opposite of Kouko. She tries to keep Banri at arms length so that he can sort out his amnesia on his own, but tends to show up whenever he's in trouble, especially during the second half of the series. As the show progresses and the love triangle between her, Kouko, and Banri develops, it's easy to see viewers starting to fall into pro-Linda and pro-Kouko camps.

We don't really see enough of the supporting cast to get to know them, though. Sure they're around and everyone does stuff together but they aren't all that developed. Mitsuo's around and is obviously one of Banri's buddies but we don't really learn much about him. The same goes for Chinami, 2D, and Nana. It would have been nice if these people were fleshed out more instead of the series focusing so much on Banri, Kouko, and Linda.

As mentioned earlier, the first half of Golden Time is much better than the second and this has a lot to do with Banri. For the first dozen episodes, he's treated like a typical college student getting on with his life, making friends, finding a girlfriend, and such. The amnesia is there and it's something he's dealing with, but one gets the sense he'll pull through eventually. However, when the second half of the series comes along we get Ghost Banri, which is just stupid.

Basically, he's supposed to be some sort of non-corporeal manifestation of Banri from before he lost his memories. He wants his life back and doesn't like the current Banri mucking things up, especially the fact that he's hanging out with Kouko instead of Linda. Ghost Banri becomes a mildly vengeful spirit and tries to find ways to interfere in Banri's life. He doesn't do anything huge but manages to give Banri a run of bad luck. It's a very silly plot element that didn't need to be there.

The first half of the series was shaping up nicely but this was tough to swallow. The last episode in particular was very confusing with the scene on the bridge. It was obvious that this was meant to tie everything up with Banri choosing someone and dealing with Ghost Banri but it came off as a convoluted mess leaving me thinking, "Okay, he chose someone, but I still don't quite know what's going on here."

Normally, this would have completely soured my opinion of an anime series, but the fact that the show was a slice of life series that didn't take place in a high school and seeing as how the first half of the series was quite entertaining, I'm not prepared to completely dismiss Golden Time. It is something that people who enjoy a slice of life anime should consider trying out. There are still good times to be had. Just keep in mind that the second half of the series isn't nearly as good as the first.

Sunday, 22 November 2015

Thinking About the SNES 25 Years On

On November 21, 1990, the Super Famicom was released in Japan and with that the system has just turned 25. I still remember all of the hype when it came out because the thing wasn't released in North America yet and magazines like EGM and GamePro were talking about it constantly with tiny images of Super Mario World, Pilotwings, and the like smattered across their pages, while kids were being bombarded with terms like "Mode 7" and "color palettes".

With the NES pretty much ruling the roost in my neck of the woods, it seemed natural that most people would want an SNES when it came out. I was certainly among them, but wound up waiting until 1993 to get mine. Other choices were made by me in the early 90s that resulted in a TurboGrafx-16 and a Sega Genesis being the center of my 16-bit console gaming. A rather ridiculous amount of time was spent on the likes of Streets of Rage, Phantasy Star II, Dungeon Explorer, Military Madness, and The Immortal.

These games kept me plenty occupied and also in the minority as most of the folks I hung around with in high school were much more in the SNES camp or weren't into games in the first place. As time wore on, though, more and more games showed up on Nintendo's 16-bit system and it became increasingly difficult for me to resist getting one myself.

From the beginning A Link to the Past caught my eye, and it was also becoming quite clear that if I wanted to continue playing Final Fantasy games I'd have to get an SNES. Then Street Fighter II came to the system and I capitulated, finally scrounging together enough birthday money, cash from odd jobs, and the like to get one second hand.

It was a glorious thing in all of its ugly gray and blue grandeur, feeling noticeably firmer than the Genesis. I only had two games on the system for quite some time: Super Mario World and Final Fantasy II (which was actually IV, but got renamed to this since II and III hadn't been released in the West and the publisher wanted to avoid confusion). I did want Street Fighter II as well, but was tapped out by then, so it would have to wait. Diving into Final Fantasy was more than enough to keep me happy for months, though. I marched around with Cecil and the gang, got them to level cap, and remember just beating the final boss repeatedly to hear the music during the 20 minute ending because it sounded so much like an orchestra compared to the beeps and bloops of my other systems' sound chips.

The console never completely pulled me into its camp, however. Even when the console wars were just emerging and kids were picking between Sega and Nintendo, I was decidedly agnostic about the whole thing. Both systems had stuff I liked, so why not enjoy all of it. This was a time when lots of people rented games, so one could partake in all sorts of experiences for relatively cheap if they at least had the systems to play the stuff on. One week I might take out Secret of Mana, another Kid Kameleon, and some other time Veigues Tactical Gladiator. There's plenty out there to explore, so why be partisan about it?

If anything, I'd say that my SNES library didn't really start to expand rapidly until 16-bit systems were being phased out to make space PlayStation and Saturn games at most shops. It was a good time to get things on the cheap. I remember getting stuff like Ninja Warriors, Lufia, and A Link to the Past for about 10 dollars each and playing the hell out of them.

Ultimately, the SNES primarily functioned as a Street Fighter II and RPG machine for me. RPGs were a bit touch and go in terms of what got released here during the 16-bit era, but the SNES had a lot of stuff that I was very interested in. Most of my time on the system was spent ploughing through Final Fantasies, 7th Saga, Paladin's Quest, Ogre Battle, Breaths of Fire, Lufias, Chrono Trigger, and the like.

In recent years, the system has seen quite a resurgence in popularity as people who grew up with it have been going on a spending spree buying up the games they couldn't afford as a kid at online auctions, consequently driving the prices up so that they're games they can't afford as adults, but it is nice to see renewed interest in the system nonetheless. I'm just left to wonder how many folks will still have fond memories of the SNES after another 25 years have past, or will the system be long forgotten as a new generation of 30-somethings wax nostalgic about "classic" mobile games like Angry Birds, Candy Crush, and Clash of Clans instead.

Friday, 20 November 2015

I Still Can't Decide Whether to Be Excited about Final Fantasy XV

Since the very first game, it's been easy for me to get excited for Final Fantasy games thanks to a combination of the series generally being quite good and a borderline unconditional love for JRPGs. However, the more I see of the fifteenth installment currently in development, the more my enthusiasm falters and I find myself not sure what to think of the thing.

A big part of this is probably the protagonists, as the game looks like Pop Idols Go On An Adventure more than anything else. To a degree it smacks of a "design by committee" approach where people in high places that really shouldn't be allowed anywhere near the design process looked at some consumer purchasing statistics, noticed what way the wind was blowing and went in that direction. Part of me wonders if this will devolve into Uta no Prince X Final Fantasy at some point when my cynicism gets going.

On the plus side, I suppose one could look at this as a bit of an about face in terms of character design, though. Instead of going with a cast of buxom beauties that have their tits jutting out, which is often the case in this industry, the game is going for some rather handsome men. So, now the female segment of the series fan base has some characters to oggle, and a slew of FFXV boys love fan art will surely proliferate through Google image search in the coming years. So that's something.

Questionable cast aside, combat is the big thing that makes or breaks an RPG for me, especially if it hails from Japan. There's something so charming about how developers from that part of the world put so much effort into this aspect of their games with unique systems ranging from resource management to party composition to special abilities. The fact that Final Fantasy XIII had a good combat system was one of the very few saving graces of that game, preventing me from completely hating it.

So now I'm left feeling a little bit uncertain about what's planned for this game, as the combat is very action-oriented and very simplified. It's more like something out of Elder Scrolls or Dragon's Dogma, which makes sense as Final Fantasy XV is planned to be an exploration-heavy open world game, just like those two. As such, this action RPG approach seems more logical in the greater context of the game. That being said, part of me can't shake my decades old expectation of a more traditional approach to combat in a JRPG that the Final Fantasy series has been known for. It's obvious bias on my part, but at the same time it leaves me wondering if this will feel like a Final Fantasy game or will it just be an open world action RPG with the Final Fantasy label slapped on the box cover. I don't think this would be such a big thing for me if this wasn't a mainline Final Fantasy, and initially it wasn't since the game was originally supposed to be Final Fantasy Versus, but with a mainline installment in this series comes certain expectations, and a much more robust battle system is one of them.

So, with that, I'm having some very mixed feelings about Final Fantasy XV based on what we know so far. XIII made me very skeptical of the series and XV isn't doing anything to change that so far. It may turn out decent, but the cast of characters look set to be more annoying than Snow, Vanille, and Hope, while the battle system comes of as anything but what I've come to expect from a Final Fantasy game. Square-Enix will have a lot of convincing to do to make me want to try this game when it comes out.

Monday, 16 November 2015

Disgaea on Steam = Yes, Please

It looks like NIS America will be bringing Disgaea to Steam in Febrary 2016, so fans of strategy RPGs can develop legions of characters to their hearts content, bringing them to level 9999 and maybe even try and finish the game at some point.

This is something I certainly wasn't expecting to see happen. It's a series that's had countless iterations on consoles over the years with not a peep about it on PC, but now they've decided to port the first game over with some improvements (UI update and better textures, M/KB support, and they're tossing in Disgaea: Afternoon of Darkness).

There really aren't that many strategy RPGs of this ilk on the PC, so I'm remaining hopeful that this could be the beginning of much more coming to the platform. It's not like NIS is lacking for games in the genre that they could follow up this release with. (La Pucella, Makai Kingdom, and Phantom Brave say hi) I certainly wouldn't complain if this lead to many more console-styled SRPGs coming to PC. Maybe in a perfect world we'd get Tactics Ogre and Final Fantasy Tactics ports as well, but that may be wishful thinking.

For now, I'll just wait patiently for Disgaea, maybe play the DS version to build up my hype, and quietly speculate to myself what other games NIS could port to PC in the future.

Friday, 13 November 2015

Quick Thoughts: Mushihimesama on Steam

mushihimesama first boss
A while ago, there was that announcement that Cave's shoot 'em ups were going to start making their way onto Steam. It's been about a week since the first of these appeared there, and they went with Mushihimesama. I was wondering what game they would choose, and figured it would probably be either this or one of their Dodonpachi games since these are their most well known series. Of course, I wasted no time in picking it up because Cave shmups are amazing, and, minor technical issues aside, it's been a lot of fun playing this on my PC.

There are a few game modes including Novice, Normal, and Arrange. They're pretty self explanatory with Novice being a slightly toned down version of the game for those new to bullet hell shooters. Normal is just as you would expect, and Arrange has different music, tons of bullets (but a smaller hit box on your character), and crazy high scores. I've been spending most of my time in Arrange mode because all of the bullets flying around have me thinking, "Weeeeeeee!" the whole time I'm playing, and there's something immensely satisfying about seeing the big numbers flashing on-screen as they're added to my score.

Some folks have run into technical issues, myself included, however. The big thing that I was hit with is trying to get the game to run in fullscreen, as it left my monitor black with sound still working and no way to exit it. Even alt-tabbing had no effect, so there was no alternative but to force the computer to shutdown by holding down the power button. There have also been some issues with frame rate and resolution, but these as well as other problems are already being addressed by Degica. The game is still plenty playable on my end so long as I do so in windowed mode, but it would be nice to see these tweaks get implemented as soon as possible.

mushihimesama dodging bullets
Just in terms of soaking in the atmosphere of Mushihimesama, though, it's great. It just screams of the arcades from the art, to the music, and all of the stuff happening on the screen. Whenever I'm in Japan I make a point of playing this game at one of the arcades I like to pop by there, so it's nice to have a legitimate way of experiencing this at home.

It's hard not to smile while dodging all of the bullets are whizzing by, with the music blasting. I'm not very good at these games, but they're exhilarating to play, and pretty darn satisfying as one gets used to them and progress becomes noticeable. I'd even say that Mushihimesama is a pretty good game to look into for people who want something a little more entry level for bullet hell shmups. The Novice mode is great for introducing players to the genre, while Normal is a nice, logical progression to harder content, especially if playing it on Maniac setting or higher.

I'm certainly having a good time with the game, and it's been getting far more play time than a lot of other shmups in my library right now. It's great for a nice time waster or serious progress, depending on how you want to approach the game, or just soak in Mushihimesama's atmosphere. There really is a lot to enjoy here, and it's doing a lot to renew my interest in shoot 'em ups. Now I'm just curious what Cave game will show up on Steam next.

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

The Irregular at Magic High School Anime Review

tatsuya miyuki erika leo mizuki and friends
I've really got to get out of the habit of checking out anime that are adaptations of light novels only to find out that the show only covers a portion of said books. It always leaves me wanting more, and since I don't live in Japan, and am not fluent enough in the language to read said novels, I'm inevitably left hanging in the end. That is something that I'm left worrying about having recently completed the anime run of The Irregular at Magic High School, as I really enjoyed the show, but it's based on a light novel series and covers only about the first half of it. Granted, it does sound like the anime did quite well for itself sales-wise, so I'm a lot more hopeful that we'll see more of it in the future, unlike Rokka, which I lamented about recently, but still part of me will live in fear that the anime will remain half finished. In the meantime, though, let's chat about the show so far.

In a nutshell, the show focuses on the Shiba siblings, Tatsuya and Miyuki, as they go to the top mage high school in Japan. Sorcery is something that has only recently awakened in humans, and has lead to several wars, so now each country does its best to educate magic-proficient individuals so to include them in their military. The school discriminates between two tiers of students which are kind of like honour students (called Blooms) versus regular ones (called Weeds) where the former exhibit exceptional skills in magic while the latter only average. Miyuki gets accepted as a Bloom, while Tatsuya enters as a weed. As the show progresses, though, we start to see that Tatsuya is hiding his true power and is on a level well beyond anyone in the school, and possibly one of the most powerful magicians in the world. So, the series largely acts as a slow reveal of who Tatsuya is and just what he is capable of with his magic.

Tatsuya using magic

This results in Tatsuya gradually earning the respect of his peers through his exceptional engineering skills, and we see the show be a bit of a story of acceptance. While wearing the mantle of a Weed, he has to prove himself on merits and show that these differentiations between magicians isn't necessarily as cut and dry as the establishment would have one believe. Thankfully there are a number of level-headed students who don't share these discriminatory Bloom vs Weed sentiments and are more inclined to judge one on the content of their character. Tatsuya quickly befriends these people, but there are still the stubborn ones that won't accept him simply because he's a Weed, so he has to prove himself to these folks, resulting them very much getting their comeuppance, which is oh so satisfying.

As all of this is going on, we start to see that there's a lot more to our protagonist here than he's letting on, and with that the show feels like a very gradual reveal of just how powerful Tatsuya is. Slowly we see that he is a brilliant engineer with amazing magical powers as we follow him through his day-to-day life in high school. The series ends on a crescendo with Tatsuya using some of his most devastating abilities, and left me hungry for more. This is where it becomes apparent that we're only halfway through the light novel in terms of content covered, but I'm cautiously optimistic that the series will continue at some point.

Ichijo and Cardinal George
While Tatsuya is doing all of this, he's meeting plenty of folks at school, of course. It's a bit touch and go in terms of how well developed the rest of the cast is. His sister, Miyuki, is interesting. On the surface she seems like she's just a very powerful magician with a big brother complex but it's through her that we start to understand just how different Tatsuya is as well as the siblings connection to the Yotsuba, one of the most powerful magician families in Japan.

Their friends and classmates are where we see things bounce between reasonably well developed and cardboard. Erika Chiba is probably the most interesting of the bunch, and it could very easily work if someone wanted to make a spin off series based on the Chiba family seeing as they're all very good sword fighters with several of them involved with law enforcement or the military. Meanwhile Mikihiko's whole thing with summoning spirits and the accident that the series hints at suggests there's quite a bit to explore with this character. Leo and Mizuki seem nice enough, and help keep things feeling light from time to time, but they aren't really all that well developed in comparison to Tatsuya and Miyuki's other friends, and, if anything, I get the sense that Mizuki is mostly around for the purpose of fan service.

The student council has its fair share of members that are introduced to us, but only a handful of them get fleshed out in any way. Mari has her moments during action scenes, but it's more Saegusa and Jumonji that are of particular interest since both of their families are two of the other top magician families in Japan, so they get involved in the political side of mage life outside of school.

Erika sword fighting
One person I'd like to learn more about, though, is Masaki Ichijo, as he's the closest thing to a rival that Tatsuya has in The Irregular at Magic High School. While there are a few other people that are straight up evil bad guys that Tatsuya fights from time to time, they were all just cannon fodder. Ichijo is seen as a prodigy at his own high school and the two cross paths at an inter school, magic-oriented sporting event. It was one of the few times where Tatsuya had to work hard to win, and made for some exciting action. There's obviously a lot more backstory to Ichijo, and I'd like to see it.

If anything, it made me more annoyed when the show tried to present Lu Gonghu as some sort of badass, but he wound up getting thumped again and against. For someone with a reputation for being a beast of a fighter, he got soundly whupped on multiple occasions, and not even by seasoned soldiers, but green, inexperienced high school students. The guy quickly devolved from potentially interesting villain to anti-climatic bore.

What with all of the magic getting flung around there are some pretty good action scenes. The showdown between Tatsuya and Ichijo is by far the best, but there are a few other scenes in particular that stood out. Erika gets in a few scraps that are reasonably entertaining, and there's a big multi episode battle towards the end of the series where everyone is fighting pretty much non-stop. They're fun scenes, but the big thing is waiting to see if Tatsuya will pull any particularly big rabbits out of his hat, which happens with increasing frequency toward the end of the series.

Lu Gonghu
The quality of the animation itself helps quite a bit in enhancing the fight scenes (and everything else for that matter), as the show is quite pretty to look at. There's a nice use of color, glowing computer terminals, and, of course, all that magic. So, the series is very easy on the eyes, if a tad heavy on the blue and teal tones.

In the end, though, we're only about halfway through the light novel with a whole lot more that we need to learn about. We've been introduced to a lot of people, and we know that Tatsuya is secretly a freakishly powerful magician and brilliant engineer. There's also still a lot of mystery surrounding his and Miyuki's aunt. So, there's still quite a bit that we need to know. What will Tatsuya do with all that power? How will the world respond to the events of the last few episodes? When will Mr. Zhou be back? Just what is the Yotsuba family scheming behind the scenes? We'll need to see the anime cover the last half of the light novel to get answers to those questions. I'm remaining cautiously optimistic that we'll see more episodes at some point in the future. The anime proved reasonably popular, so there's a monetary incentive for the show to continue. It's just a question of how long it'll be before it returns.

Sunday, 8 November 2015

The Warcraft Movie Trailer Looks Pretty Bad

warcraft movie poster
The trailer for the Warcraft movie came out the other day, and I have to say that it didn't impress. Right from the opening visuals, the thing dripped of fantasy cliche as it showed one sweeping vista after the next, orcs that looked kinda flabby, and humans that had armor made out of plastic. Then it gets even worse, we have to listen to some of the dialogue. As it stands, I'm not sure how many people are going to line up and see what is starting to look like a two hour cut scene. Maybe some of the super diehard fans will go watch it, but this is something that probably should have come out five years ago when the franchise was at the height of its popularity.

Looking at the motifs, the movie comes off as a paint by numbers approach to fantasy in the trailer. If anything, it felt like it was aping Lord of the Rings a little too much. Granted, fantasy, and especially fantasy video games, have been doing this for years, but watching how it is approached in the trailer brings it into sharp focus. There was nothing really striking about the places that they were showing, even if they were hinting at major cities of Azeroth in it. I was just left feeling like I'd been drawn through a montage of very traditional fantasy locales and had a lot of trouble mustering any interest in them.

Even worse is that the visuals seem off. The orcs, while huge, had a strangely doughy look to them as if there was an unusually thick layer of fat and flesh covering their muscles. Meanwhile, the scenes of humans were far from impressive and I was left wondering if the studio was going cheap on the armor because it all looked like it was made from plastic. The whole time I watched the trailer, the more grating it was to look at all of this. It also got me wondering why they couldn't just make a CG movie instead of going the live action route. The cinematics that have come along for each expansion for World of Warcraft have been very good, especially for the last couple. I would have been fine if the movie looked like that. Maybe it would have been expensive and time consuming to do, but it would look far better than what we have now.

I'm also wondering how much they're going to try to squeeze into a single movie because the trailer sure seemed to be trying to cram a lot of people, places, and events into it. The whole thing could turn into a confusing onslaught of lore that doesn't get very well explained. Moreover, the dialogue feels really bad. Granted it has always been bad in the games. I only find Warcraft's lore tolerable if I consume it via Wiki articles. Having to sit through actual cutscenes and listen to the characters talk has been a consistent exercise in patience as it has been one cliche after the next with really corny lines for everyone. Now it would seem that this is being brought straight into the movie, which could make any time someone talks in it pretty darn cringe worthy.

As it stands, I'm thoroughly unimpressed with what I've seen of the Warcraft movie judging by the trailer. This is supposed to be making a first impression, and right now that impression is to stay far away from this thing. Part of me really does wonder if this will turn into Blizzard's Spirits Within, and expensive, over-hyped disaster.

Wednesday, 4 November 2015

Rokka: Braves of the Six Flowers Season One Anime Review

characters of rokka no yuusha

With an epic fantasy unfolding, an ensemble cast to dig into, nice art style, and an interesting, somewhat Aztec-esque motif (something you don't see very often in anime), there were a lot of reasons for me to really get sucked in by Rokka: Braves of the Six Flowers. The basic premise is something we've seen before where a band of adventurers must assemble to defeat an ancient evil, but the characters had some meat on their bones and the arch of the story evolved into a very interesting "There's a traitor in our midst" sort of thing that had me steamrolling through the whole season eager to find out what would happen next.

Basically, the story is such that a powerful demon king resides on the edge of the continent in which the show takes place. Every few hundred years, it has a resurgence in power and tries to send its army of demons out to conquer the world. To counter this, one of the land's powerful goddesses selects six people to join up and fight the demon king, with each of these individuals being marked by a six-pedaled flower tattoo.

A large chunk of the story revolves around Adlet Myer, one of those selected by the goddess to fight the demon king this generation, who comes off as a bit of an overly confident moron but grows into a much more interesting character with a developed back story that makes him a lot more sympathetic. It isn't just from learning about Adlet's past, though, as his interactions with everyone else makes him all the more endearing. He's the sort that will do his best to work together with others despite constantly claiming to be the strongest man in the world. Even if people don't want to believe him, which is the case for about half of the series, Adlet will do everything he can to bring them on-side.

This was particularly the case between him and Flamie, catapulting him to one of the most likable characters I've come across this year in an anime. It also made me warm up to Flamie herself, who plays the dark loner who pushes everyone away for fear of being betrayed. Sure, it's a character type we've seen many, many times in the past but the back and forth between her and Adlet is great, developing over much of the series. Watching this unfold, it's hard not to cheer for these two as they make progress, occasionally stumbling along the way.

When it comes to the other characters, they don't get nearly as much screen time as Adlet and Flamie, so there isn't the same opportunity for them to grow. There is some basic foundation work done so that we can get a basic idea of what they're like, but we'd need another season or two in order for this to have a chance to transpire (more about this later). Some of the characters suffer from fairly traditional archetyping like Goldof being the serious, loyal soldier and Hans the assassin.

However, Chamo could turn out to be quite interesting. She's the youngest of the heroes, and still quite immature. Maura pretty much has to watch over her and make sure that she behaves. I could see her coming into her own as she has the most to learn of the heroes. Maura herself, though, I'm not sure about. She's supposedly in charge of overseeing all of the Saints of the world, individuals entrusted with the power of the gods. For having such an important responsibility, she struck me as being awfully stubborn and a poor judge of character. Her actions struck me as odd more often than not given her position. Nachetanya as alright. She seemed like a naive princess out in the world for the first time more often than not, and it wasn't until right near the end of the series that we got a good idea of the sort of person she is.

Flamie from rokka no yuusha
As I mentioned earlier, the ancient South American theme to the civilizations in Rokka struck me as as a pretty neat idea. It's not something we see often and made for some nice settings. The main characters don't reflect this at all and have a much more straightforward fantasy motif to them, which is fine because they look great. I particularly like Adlet and Flamie's designs, but Goldof and Maura also look quite good.

The fight scenes are quite fluid and a lot of fun to watch. There's a particularly intense one between Adlet and Hans at one point that stood out for me and is at least on par with Adlet's skirmishes with Flamie. These smaller scale battles are where the show really excels, as they feel a lot more exciting and well choreographed than the larger encounters against hordes of fiends. In that regard, Rokka does a very good job, providing some very enjoyable fights.

Some folks seem to feel that the show as a bit slow paced, but I never thought so. There was steady action and progression with each episode in my opinion. We got introduced to the characters, learned a bit more about them and their ultimate goal, and had a major arch while they tried to find a traitor in their midst. All things considered, it was a very good first season.

It's just too bad that it seems unlikely that Rokka will get a second one. From everything I've heard, the show just didn't perform all that well and when that happens studios just don't consider continuing on with it, which is a real shame because Rokka finishes on such a huge cliffhanger. There is a fan translation of much of the light novel series on which the show is based, so those that enjoyed it can actually get some closure if they want. Nonetheless, it is a bit of a drag. So, anyone going into Rokka: Braves of the Six Flowers should be prepared. There's a lot to enjoy here, but as of this writing it looks highly unlikely that we'll see the anime go through the entire story. My fingers are crossed that this will change, though.

Monday, 2 November 2015

New Research Shows Continued Stagnation in Console Market

So, the Pew Research Center has some new data for digital device adoption, and the numbers are looking distinctly meh for consoles. Meanwhile, smartphones and tablets continue to skyrocket in popularity. It's something that has been getting more and more frequently discussed, whether consoles in the middle of a terminal decline. This new set of data in the very least suggests that consoles are stagnating in terms of industry wide sales in the US.

The data shows console sales from 2009 to 2015. If one looks at around the time when the latest batch of systems came out, there's barely an upward tick to be seen, even with all of the hoopla about how well the PS4 has sold. Moreover, the percentage of people in the US who own a console has stayed consistent at about 40% while smartphones and tablets have enjoyed rapid increases in ownership.

It's been said many times before, but this survey continues to suggest that we're seeing a generational shift where it's adults in their 20s and 30s who are carrying the console market, while younger people are exhibiting less interest in it, instead gravitating toward mobile platforms.

For now, console adoption seems to have leveled off, but it remains to be seen if adults will continue to invest in such systems indefinitely. Should we see their interest taper off, it stands to reason that mobile will overtake consoles all that much quicker. Then the question will be where developers will focus their attention most.

This could also be impacted as mobile technology continues to advance. While some people will claim that smartphone games are dumbed down cash grabs (and many of them certainly are), I can't help but wonder if they'll just increasingly docked devices at home. Carry the thing around like a phone during the day doing basic activities in a game, then place it in a dock connected to the TV when at home, using a controller of some sort for more involved aspects of the same game. It's a a logical way of approaching mobile gaming in the future, but whether or not developers will pursue it remains to be seen.

As I've said before, mobile gaming is still in its infancy, and has a very long way to go. I don't really see what I suggested happening for at least another decade in any meaningful, widespread fashion for at least another decade. At that point, it seems far more likely that these young people that are helping tablet and smartphone adoption grow so much will be out of college, still interested in games, but want to evolve mobile gaming far beyond what it is now.