06/07/2013

Doctor Who: The Eternity Clock

Platform: PC (Steam – 6.99€)
Other Platforms: PS3, Vita


DooWeeDoooooo


Daleks are definitely the most aggressive and difficult enemy in the game.
Doctor Who….. A franchise that spans 50 years, with over 750 episodes, tons of books, a massive fanbase which, as of the last few years has grown ridiculously and an array of famous actors and writers. Making a videogame out of it sounds like a good idea. A bunch of cash is generated from sales and some new fans are brought aboard as well.
However, if there’s one thing the videogame industry has never exceled at, is making videogames based on movies and TV series. And I don’t know which is worse: if the fact that a big Hollywood movie nowadays implies a videogame counterpart, or the fact that those counterparts always feel like they were made using the last remnants of the movie budget, and on a Sunday afternoon.
DW:TEC, of course, is crippled by this cash-grabbing  mind-set and thus suffers considerably in most regards. But it does manage to get some things right. Let’s take a look.





Wibbly-Wobbly, Timey-Wimey


Get a tight suit, add some silicone and voilá! Lame fanservice.
The plot here is simple at first. Something or someone is causing a temporal maelstrom, and it’s up to the Doctor to stop it from tearing up time and space. Well, in a way, it’s mostly up to the TARDIS, since the poor girl acts as a plug, keeping the many holes in the fabric of time closed. Consequently, the TARDIS becomes slightly omnipresent. “Slightly omnipresent?” Well, yeah, since there are several time rifts and she’s keeping them closed, she is wherever there are any of those, which is….in several places simultaneously. Needless to say, moving her isn’t such a good idea in these conditions, so the Doctor is forced to use several time corridors that seem to pop out of nowhere with an unsettling accuracy, both time and space-wise.
Just as expected of a mess of this nature, along the way, the Doctor will face all of the major enemies of the most recent seasons, Cybermen, Daleks, the Silence and so on, each chapter being dedicated to outsmarting and defeating each one of these. All of this of course, while you go on with your quest of saving the universe once again and still be home in time for dinner.




BUGS! TOO MANY BUGS! EXTERMINATE!


Waiting for the AI to do its job.
Soon enough, you will most likely run into problems. Due to the 2-player nature of the game, and due to the fact that when you’re playing single your companion is as AI, several puzzles involving both players quickly become frustrating. Sometimes the AI will take too long to do what it’s supposed to do, or sometimes it might get stuck, meaning it won’t do anything at all, forcing you to restart from the last checkpoint. There’s also the fact that the enemy AI seems weird, being completely unable to notice you as long as they don’t face you, but if they do they will detect you even if there’s a thick wall between you and them. Some controls aren’t intuitive at all, especially elevator controls: some require you to use the sonic screwdriver, some others require you to just push up or down and others require you to press the action button. This might seem minor, but an inconsistency of this kind becomes a major annoyance, since you will be riding a lot of elevators and platforms.
On the other side of things, we have the configurations. The video options menu won’t save your chose settings, so you are forced to use the default graphic profiles (Low, Medium or High), which is also annoying (changing the config file directly had no effect whatsoever), and frequently, you will notice popping textures.





(Relatively) High IQ 


The only thing to do inside the TARDIS....is to exit the TARDIS.

The puzzles are all pretty mediocre and easy even on the highest difficulty. The mind map puzzles were the most interesting idea out of all the challenges present here, but even those are easy to figure out. In here you have to correctly align an image in a circle by rotating its sections. In easy mode that’s literally all you need to do but in higher difficulties each section you rotate will simultaneously rotate other sections, each in a different manner, thus increasing the challenge. The platforming element is decent and for any Doctor Who fan, using the screwdriver to unlock doors and other shenanigans feels delicious. Too bad that is everything you will use in this game (besides River’s gun).

Still I can’t help but feel that this is quite a cheap cash-in. There was so much that could be done, and yet, we are left with a hollow game that consists in jumping across platforms, sneaking past enemies, and solving a few easy puzzles across the way. The collectibles don’t really add much to it, but at least there are several achievements for timed runs which will most likely make you do certain sections more than once. Good thing all sections are pretty small and can usually be done in under 10-12 mins each.

Another very disappointing point in this game is the TARDIS herself. How could such an important element of the whole DW universe be shoved aside and just used as a cheap way to have a simplified plot? Fiddling with the inside of the TARDIS would have been a dream for any DW fan, since there are endless possibilities as to what can be found inside (as seen in Season 7’s “Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS”). The control room is so pretty and detailed, and yet it’s used for nothing. The ONLY thing you do inside the TARDIS in this game is…….walk out of it.


Geronimoooooooo


Despite all its flaws, the game manages to get some stuff right. The ability to point your sonic screwdriver and use it to mess up with stuff is pretty damn funny, and it's pretty cool to personally evade and defeat the Daleks in a post-apocalyptic London, while listening to Matt Smith's occasional witty one-liners. That being said, some stuff, like the overall looks of Dr. River Song were totally uncalled for and are just a petty fan-service attempt.
So, in conclusion, if you’re not a DW fan and you’re just looking for a platforming game…….don’t bother. There are so many better alternatives out there for you, and this one doesn't really stand out. If you’re a big DW fan like me, go ahead and give it a try, you might like it.

05/07/2013

Final Fantasy XIII


Details

Developer: Square Enix
Publisher: Square Enix
Reviewed Platform: PS3
Game Modes: Single Player
RPVP: $19.99*
Release Date: March 9, 2010

Overview


Lightning on Gran Pulse, Cocoon is seen floating in the sky.
Final Fantasy XIII takes us to a universe where humans live in an artificial sphere called Cocoon that floats around a planet called Gran Pulse. Cocoon is ruled by the Sanctum, a theocratic government, and both Cocoon and Gran Pulse are controlled by the fal'Cie, entities of godlike power. These entities are able to mark humans as their servants, who become l'Cie, and give them a task that they must complete known as the Focus. If the l'Cie completes their Focus they turn to crystal, but if they are unable to do it in a certain amount of time then they become monsters called Cie'th. The problem is that they receive their Focus in the form of visions that must be interpreted.

One hundred years before the events of the game, a war called War of Transgression took place between both worlds where l'Cie from Gran Pulse attacked Cocoon and destroyed part of it, which had to be patched with materials lifted from Pulse. The citizens of Cocoon have since lived in fear of another invasion, fear that is used by the Sanctum to remain in power.

There are two main military forces in Cocoon overseen by the Sanctum, the Guardian Corps, responsible for keeping order in Cocoon, and PSICOM, responsible for dealing with any Pulse related threat. The fal'Cie have also given the humans advanced technology. There is also a form of magic which normally is only accessible to l'Cie, fal'Cie and various monsters but humans can also use a distilled chemical form of it. 

Plot

The purge exiles, being protected by NORA.
The game begins two of the main characters, Lightning and Sazh, being Purged (being sent to Gran Pulse) because they had been in contact with something from there. Lightning derails the train to arrive in the zone where a Pulse fal'Cie had been discovered around 13 days earlier, in an attempt to rescue her sister, Serah, that was turned into a l'Cie during that event.

Snow and his resistance group, NORA, try to rescue the Purge exiles but during that process several people are killed, including Hope's mother, which he witnesses, powerless, together with Vanille who was also to be purged. Meanwhile, Snow is trying to rescue Serah, his bride-to-be, from the fal'Cie.

Vanille encourages Hope to follow Snow to confront him about his mother's death and because of that they also end up inside the fal'Cie. They all meet up with Serah, who asks them to save Cocoon and then she turns into crystal, an indication that she completed her Focus.

In an attempt to save Serah from her current state Snow and Lightning go to the fal'Cie, followed by Sazh, Vanille and Hope. After a quick battle with them, they all turn into l'Cie, giving them the same Focus, and visions showing the monster called Ragnarok.

The game then continues with the characters trying to understand their Focus in an attempt to save themselves from their fate.

Gameplay and Difficulty

Ingame battle system.
The player is able to control any character(s) he wants (in some sections of the game that's not possible but in the majority it is). The controls feel fluid and easy to use but the camera can be annoying in closed spaces (almost the entire game is played in closed spaces) but it can be controlled easily with the right analog stick (there is the option to invert the camera control if desired). It isn't possible to jump which can be frustrating sometimes because the player has to find a marked position to be able to perform a sort of scripted jump, in order to navigate through certain areas (to jump over a bunch of boxes for example).

The maps are very linear and there isn't much to explore, at least not until the player reaches Gran Pulse, which can be explored freely. But most of the time the map is just a corridor or something similar. In Gran Pulse there are 64 side quests to do which involve killing a specific target. In Gran Pulse its also possible to ride Chocobos.

The player is able to level up a character in different roles, and in the end all roles become available to every character. The roles are: Sentinel (aka tank), Commando (melee fighter), Ravager (magic fighter), Medic (healing role), Synergist (a support role to enhance party status) and the Saboteur (this one specializes in inflicting negative status effects to enemies).

Paradigm shift.
The battle system is similar to the ATB system used in other entries like FFIX, but the player only controls one character and there is a feature called 'Paradigm Shift', where the player can quickly change the role of each party member. The party is composed of a maximum of three characters and there is a limit of six different paradigms that the player can set up to use in battle. The paradigms are a set of roles for each party member and activating that particular paradigm in battle will change each character's active role accordingly.

The game itself isn't very difficult if the player uses the Paradigm Shift feature well. The system is very easy to learn and it doesn't take long to get used to it. Each character is able to unlock an Eidolon and use it in battle by summoning it.

It is quite hard to earn in-game currency because the battles do not give any. It can only be obtained from chests or by selling items. All the equipment in the game is upgradable and every character's ultimate weapon is obtainable by upgrading any weapon that they can use. Depending on the weapon upgraded the ultimate version may have different stats.

Opinion

Chocobo riding in the open plains of Gran Pulse.
Well, in my opinion this is a good game, true its linear but that doesn't have to be something bad. Personally it isn't something that bothers me much. Although I do think that having "virtual" stores to buy/sell items in save points, practically no cities and almost nonexistent interactable NPCs is a shame, thankfully Square Enix addressed this in the sequel, FFXIII-2.

Other than that, the story can be a bit confusing if the player does not pay enough attention but its interesting and the ending is satisfactory (yeah I like endings where everything ends well, you can see my face when I finished FFXIII-2, but that's another review).

Some side quests where challenging (like the trials and the last one) which kept me from leaving the game after finishing it, so that's a plus, but the replay value is very low, mainly because the game's linearity and only one possible ending.

The Breakdown

Positive Aspects
Negative Aspects
Needs Improvement
  • Story and overall world.
  • Battle system and Paradigm Shift.
  • Side quests.
  • Lack of interactable NPC, including the virtual stores.
  • No actual cities.
  • It might be too linear.
  • A jumping skill would be great.
  • The replay value.


My Playing Statistics


Time Played: 121,5 hours
Trophies Unlocked: All
Difficulty played the most: Default


*RPVP based on GameStop retail price for PS3 (New)

Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch


So I just finished this game called Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch and what a journey!

To start this review I have to start to talk about the soundtrack. It is beautiful, the whole soundtrack is based on a few basic melodies, which could make the soundtrack sound repetitive, but that's the thing, it doesn't. The melodies fit so well with the feel of the game that it never gets old. I'd recommend the reader to go hear some tracks.

Oliver casting "Gateway", to go to the Other World.
Next, I will talk about the characters and the voice acting. A good thing about the game is that you can choose to keep the voice acting in Japanese or change it to English. The main character (Oliver) has a child has a child voice (well duh) but the studio managed to not make it too sweet. The sidekick (Drippy, Lord High Lord of the Fairies) is a character that doesn't worry about almost anything and speaks with a Welsh accent which I think is unusual and the expressions he uses just make him even more funny. The writing is excellent as well, Drippy is dropping puns all the time and it doesn't make the game too melodramatic (Square-Enix could learn a thing or two with this game). The rest of the characters have voice acting just as good as well.

One thing that annoys me a lot is the excessive amount of dialogues you have to go through to get pieces of heart (I'll talk about them later on) and to do side-quests. I mean, it's nice to have context for everything that happens but you get a little annoyed after a while and start pressing the skip button all the way through.

The story in the beginning starts off with a tragedy which ultimately leads Oliver to the "Other World" to try to fix what happened. There he learns that an evil wizard is stealing pieces of people's hearts, like a person's enthusiasm, which leaves them brokenhearted. Oliver's goal is to stop the evil wizard and try to fix the tragedy that happened in the beginning. The story seems simple but closer to the end there are some twists that really makes it unique.

Oliver and Drippy in Ding Dong Dell
In terms of gameplay there is a lot to talk about, and I mean A LOT. The amount of content this game has is just amazing. There is an open world you can explore, first by foot, then by boat and later on by flying. The battle system allows you to select any character in your party and then fight with the character itself or with one of the familiars available to them. You can give some equipment to the characters and familiars, or give treats to the familiars to optimize the stats. The familiars can learn tricks, they can evolve (Methamorphize) and you can actually "catch" wild enemies to have them as familiars.

Oliver can use spells outside of battle, like "Chart Chests" and "Veil", to show chests that are close to him and to hide himself from enemies. There is alchemy, with which you can produce armor, weapons and consumables. There are rewards for doing side-quests too, you get stamps on cards for completing quests, and when you have a certain number of fully stamped cards you can trade them for perks, like increased battle experience and more rare drops, or increased speed while walking.

This huge amount of content can be a down side because it can be overwhelming for some people.

The battle system can be annoying and the game itself is not easy at some points. You have to be fast to block attacks, so you're able to survive through boss battles, and mana is something you will want to hold back, because you don't have much of it. There are "orbs" that drop from enemies (Drippy provides them as well) that restore a bit of health or mana, but its not much, and because only some familiars can learn a trick to resurrect you will want to keep all the consumables that can do that. Also, since you don't recover HP or MP after a battle, while on dungeons you will want to have consumables or it will be very difficult to survive.

Oliver fighting with a familiar.
The graphics are stunning, the cel-shading art style that is used in the game just fits so well with this type of
game that I couldn't think of any other way that should have been done. All in all the world looks amazing and the quality of the animation is excellent. I have just one small complaint about the cutscenes. They used still image animation and while it does look amazing the "non-fluidity" of the animation wasn't a plus to me.

This game also has end-game content, mainly a bunch of side-quests where you can side upgraded versions of bosses and such. You can also fight the last boss again if you'd like to. There is also the trophy collection for the PS3 which I might try to complete one day and it adds to the replay value.

In short, this game is a must buy for any fans of a good JRPG. The beautiful world, amazing soundtrack, clever writing and huge content will have you glued to the screen and you will want to just keep playing. 

02/07/2013

What inspiration is worth

Coca-Cola has always been a company mindful of innovation. With heart-warming campaigns, easily recognized icons and hard-to-forget commercials, its marketing department is one step ahead at churning out memorable ideas. From animated polar bears to red trucks lit up in tune with the Christmas spirit, from catchy party songs to children choirs, they've tried everything to push the limits of what ads can do. As of late, they've started changing what their vending machines can do, too. Take for instance the 007: Skyfall promotional campaign, where people could get tickets if they managed to finish the mission in 70 seconds while the movie theme was played live, and then sing the same theme to the machine.


By far, the most impactful Coca-Cola videos are the inspirational ones.
We have security camera love…

… sharing…

… and the numbers that really matter.




The latest chapter of this saga is the Indian-Pakistani interactive vending machine, the so-called Small World machine. These machines work in pairs, one being in India and the other on in Pakistan, eliciting buyers to perform actions together so they can get their drink.

If you haven't watched it, you should.  It's a good video.
A beautiful video.



The state of affairs between India and Pakistan is touchy. There’s suspicion and anger from both sides, deeply rooted in the History of those nations, particularly since the partition of British India. Not only military conflicts but also religious divergences and territorial disputes have contributed to turn their relations into a very sensitive game of chess.

I’m not going to claim I understand all the implications surrounding the subject, but at the very least I can understand how this ad works for an outsider. To us individuals, whose lives are not directly impacted by the walls created by the conflict, watching two human beings who are different enough to have been at war bond over a machine makes us happy. It makes us think ‘Oh, it’s not that hard after all. We can build that bridge’. It gives us hope. And we feed on hope to keep believing.

Of course, Coca-Cola is not trying to solve a difficult problem between countries. Such thing would be impossible and utopic. In reality, they do it, for the most part, because they know this ad makes them look good. Ads that appeal to our emotional side tend to be more successful strategies than ads directed at our intellect. Some people might even claim the company only does what it does because they have an interest.
And why wouldn’t they? They’re a successful brand, whose name and drink is recognized in the farthest corners of Earth. Keeping that Earth together matters to the business, and so does people’s opinions. So it’s only reasonable that they want people to think of Coca-Cola ads with tenderness, believing the world can be a better place. Still, there’s a whole world of things a company could do to get people’s attention without having to deal with very hard political matters. The fact that they choose to, at least for me, means something. 
I don’t think a campaign needs to be selfless to have a deeper meaning, and the fact stands that Coca-Cola chose to spend their money in this manner.

We cannot forget that the people in that video are real people. The campaign is real, more so to those people than to us bystanders. It can’t create an open door, but it is an open window. The most important thing Coca-Cola is showing is that there’s humanity everywhere. The Indian are human. The Pakistani are human. Regardless of years of prejudice, deep down in every human existence is the wish to connect. Not only they can recognize each other as humans but they can interact, test that humanity, test that similarity to their brothers in origin. They can do all that behind a glass, behind anonymity and at a safe distance. Safety gives birth to courage. Curiosity takes the place of discomfort. And from that curious observation, hopefully, will come some manner of compassion.

They say change starts small, and while such small scale change is arguably no change at all, it’s proof that there’s a will. Coca-Cola is letting us in the secret that there are things that are worth thinking about, even if only from time to time. That while we go about our sped-up lives, while disasters happen and people struggle, somewhere in a different place there's people trying to be better.

The fact that there’s someone out there showing us there’s beauty in this cruel world is, at the very least enough to change me.

29/06/2013

Zetsuen no Tempest


Air date: Oct 5, 2012 to Mar 29, 2013 
Studio: Bones + Aniplex
Episode number: 24
Score: 9/10




Zetsuen no Tempest has a special place in my heart. It was my second favourite series of its season, and surprisingly pleasurable to watch. Let me set it straight right off the bat - with regard to this series, I am biased, for various reasons. First and foremost, because Fuwa Aika resembles a character of my own making. Secondly because the flashbacks and backstory were absolutely delicious. Last but not the least, because anything inspired by Shakespeare, even if lightly, tends to have a dramatic tone hard to find anywhere else. I could keep listing proof of my partiality. But that’s beside the point. The point is - do not expect an objective review. Read at your own risk.


Attention: This review is not spoiler-free!



Story

Fuwa Mahiro, a teenager whose sister was recently murdered, can't deal with the injustice of her loss while the murderer is still unknown. After finding a wooden doll, he gets involved with Kusaribe Hakaze, a magician that is estranged on an island. All around, strange things are happening; people are succumbing to Black Iron Syndrome while giant fruits appear from the ground, and Hakaze needs Mahiro's help to save the world. 

This could be a very typically shounen premise if not for the connections between Mahiro, Yoshino and Aika. The very first episode you are shown animosity between Aika and Yoshino in every flashback you get. You see Yoshino looking at his phone and going to school even though Mahiro, his friend, is missing. Even once they're reunited, Mahiro takes every chance he gets to tell Yoshino that he and Aika didn't get along. Despite the fact that Mahiro doesn't care about this world that illogically killed Aika, Yoshino decides to help him for the sake of saving the world. Yet, at the very end of the episode, there's a repetition of the flashback with Aika on Mahiro's bike, now seen from Yoshino's perspective. That's when you realize she's smiling at him. You realize that she's speaking ill of him to Mahiro at the same time they're saying goodbye behind his back. And you come to terms with the fact that Yoshino has been staring at one of her pictures on his cellphone ever since she died.

From then on, all the flashbacks are clearer and you start to see the Shakespearean relationships going on. Yoshino keeps the secret that he and Aika were dating from Mahiro. Mahiro likes Aika, his stepsister, but doesn't realize it. It was pretty obvious that at some point all these things were going to come out. I just wanted to be there when it happened.

Arguably, that first 10-out-of-10 impression was slightly attenuated by the main plot, which isn't as interesting for me as the character interactions. Now, don’t get me wrong. It stands up pretty well on its own and it’s a driver for everything that happens. It’s important. It might even be the most interesting part for some people. But it wasn't the bit I was looking forward to, after the first episode, no - the true delight of this series lied in the main character's relationships. I was in for feelings of sadness, warmth and cuteness, and the more I got those flashbacks, the more I wanted them. It was a brilliant strategy to feed these juicy bits slowly to the audience, amidst more common action. That kept me on the edge of my seat.



Characters

Since characters are such a capital aspect of this series, it was logically one of the things I paid most attention to. Soon I realized that there's a huge gap between the main characters and the side characters, which is development. I suppose the same happens with most series, where main characters change and are added depth as the story progresses, whilst the side characters are there as a utility more than as people. That is to say, they keep their role more or less the same way for the whole running time. While this doesn't diminish the enjoyment or quality of the show per say, it does make it hard to care for side characters. Sure, some look cool, witty or amusing, but they're there to fill in the gaps, and most of them don't work well as stand-alone characters. The only one I can recall that made me feel more than indifference was sister Yamamoto, because she has a strong (as in pushy) personality, which leaves a far stronger mark than the Kusaribe clan characters. The other side character with some potential, Junichiro, appeared too little to leave more than a fleeting impression.

Why isn't this enough of a flaw to lower my opinion of this series? Mostly, because I don't think most series need every character to be good. I love when that happens as much as everyone else, but  realistically, most series have a small cast of really great characters, and a bigger cast of average ones. And I think that's okay, as long as the characters given most air-time are well-rounded and interesting. Such is this case. It would improve with better side characters, yes, but there's no need for them since the main ones are more than enough for the job.

Aika is amazing. It's widely agreed that she has a nasty personality, but it's the kind of nasty that I love. She's a strong female character, she's flirty, takes the lead, and decisive. She teases Yoshino as well as Mahiro, sometimes very meanly, and is perfectly aware of what she's doing. Nevertheless, she's also a dreamer, she believes in causality and logic, and recites Shakespeare on a daily basis, which means that she's not nasty because she's stupid or superficial. There are many layers to Aika, some of which are only revealed by the end of the series, and in there you can find kindness and independence, cute moments and straightforward ones, responsibility towards the world as the Magician of Exodus, cleverness, and a very human will to connect with those two boys. She's the best character of the series, in my eyes, and my only regret is that she is dead since the very first episode, and will not live again. You can share her past, but it's silly to pray for a future.

Hakaze is more typical, hence she doesn't shine as much. She needs help, but she's strong and smart all the same, perfectly fit to be the head of the clan. She does what she can by herself, still she doesn't have issues with relying on other people to do what she can't. At the same time, she falls hopelessly in love, she wavers and is a bit naïve. She struggles. I won't deny she has her charm, and certainly is easier for most people to relate to.

As for Mahiro and Yoshino, they're extremely interesting to watch whether on their own, with Aika and with each other. Mahiro surprised me with the maturity he has in spite of appearing selfish at first. I thought he was going to hit Yoshino when he learned he was Aika's mystery boyfriend, but my prediction was far off.  More than anyone else, he has a process of discovery and acceptance going on until the very last moment. Yoshino is smart and collected but he's also wounded, suffering in silence. He can think his way out of difficult discussions and be eloquent. Still, the times I like Yoshino the most are when he shows a bit more of himself, like when he's around Mahiro.



Art and animation

I've come to notice that it’s hard to write properly about art and animation. It may be so because we've grown accustomed to quality in most anime out there nowadays, to a point in which it’s easier to pick the ones that disappoint than the ones that are good. Still, under the risk of becoming repetitive, I have to try.


Personally, I love the art-style used in Zetsuen no Tempest. While it’s not particularly distinctive or revolutionary, it is not overdone. Everything feels smooth and pretty. The animation is consistent and the type of perspective used in some scenes adds up to the drama. Particularly Mahiro, Aika, Hakaze and Yoshino, the people you’re supposed to care about the most, stand out as the best designed characters.

Where it gets distinctive is in the use of colour. The first ending stands out for the pastel tones and aesthetically beautiful lines, with some hints of art noveau. That's not something one sees a lot, and for me it was as gorgeous as it was refreshing to look at. Beautiful curves and lines are kept throughout the episodes but never in an excessive way. In fact, that style is only blatantly obvious in specific images such as Aika's death, where to some extent it helps making the scene memorable and visually appealing.




Music and voice-acting

When I finished the series I rushed to listen to the soundtrack and wow, is it good! It’s full of classical and cataclysmic pieces that call to mind some Romantic-era composers. My personal favourite is the first track, Zetsuen. It’s filled to the brim with sadness, longing, and impending doom, but it’s gorgeous. Both openings and endings are catchy, and I even use the first opening, Spirit Inspiration, as a warm-up song, to get the blood pumping to my brain. In it, I found that essence that goes well with the need to struggle and fight. On the other hand, the first ending is just so cute and upbeat that it contrasts deeply against the tense, nearly overdramatic, cliffhangers that were sure to happen every episode.

As for the voice actors, I’ve got nothing but to congratulate them. Job well done! The voices suit the character’s image and personality and never feel out of place. Uchiyama Kouki (Soul Evans in Soul Eater) is mostly collected in his portrayal of Yoshino, whereas Toyonaga Toshiyuki (Ryuugamine Mikado in Durarara!!) as Mahiro’s voice spells angsty brat as well as any voice could. More importantly, Aika’s voice is done by none other than Hanazawa Kana (Tsunemori Akane from Psycho Pass, Shiemi from Ao no Exorcist, and many more) who I had already complemented in my Angel Beats review, but who I like even more as Aika. Her voice is sweet but devious at times, and she deserves most of the credit for the Aika's playful nature. 

Hakaze’s voice, of course, is a central piece during half of the series, since that’s the only part of her the two boys are aware of. Not only that, but it's a voice you hear a lot, be it in negotiations or explanations throughout the series. It’s done by Sawashiro Miyuki (Celty Sturlson from Durarara!! and Shinku from Rozen Maiden), who puts up a great performance, as per usual. The other voices, albeit less impactful, were also well achieved, which is no wonder when they feature seyuu like Kaji Yuuki (Eren Jäger in Shingeki no Kyoujin, Alibaba in Magi), Mizuki Nana (Alois Trancy in Kuroshitsuji) and Koyama Rikiya (Shinigami in Soul Eater). Unlike it happens so often with side characters, at no point did I feel that a scene was poorly delivered. Overall, a big thumbs-up.




Enjoyment 

As I've stated before, I massively enjoyed following this series. For me it was the characters and the hidden truths waiting to be revealed sooner or later that kept my expectations up. While that was truth for me as a viewer, it doesn't have to apply to everyone watching the series. For the most part, I believe many others were interested in learning more about the Clan, the Tree of Genesis and its powers, and how the magic system works in that world. Some just wanted an all-out fight between Genesis and Exodus. Ones got what they wanted more than others, as proved by different opinions on the quality of the series.

Regardless, there’s enough in it to entertain all these people. In the way that I see it, there’s only one pre-requisite to enjoy the series, and that is being interested in any of its elements, be it the lovely animation, the magic, the dramatic tunes or just Shakespearian references. That being the case, try this show. It grabbed a hold of me promising not to let go. May it do the same to you.

18/06/2013

The Fault in Our Stars, by John Green

Publisher: Dutton Juvenile
Release date: January 2012
Pages: 336
ISBN: 9780525478812


Synopsis

Diagnosed with Stage IV thyroid cancer at 12, Hazel was prepared to die until, at 14, a medical miracle shrunk the tumours in her lungs... for now. Two years post-miracle, sixteen-year-old Hazel is post-everything else, too post-high school, post-friends and post-normalcy. And even though she could live for a long time (whatever that means) Hazel lives tethered to an oxygen tank, the tumours tenuously kept at bay with a constant chemical assault. Enter Augustus Waters. A match made at cancer kid support group, Augustus is gorgeous, in remission, and shockingly to her, interested in Hazel. Being with Augustus is both an unexpected destination and a long-needed journey, pushing Hazel to re-examine how sickness and health, life and death, will define her and the legacy that everyone leaves behind.



Opinion

There are books that one reads for adventure. There are the ones read for fun. There are books that are naught but a passing experience. Then, there are those books that change your life so much that you hold on to them for the rest of your life. The Fault in Our Stars is one of those books.

I admit that I'm not big on Young Adult books, mainly because I think some of them present a too simplistic take on life, such as the ideal romance, love triangles and many times, stereotypified characters. But this time, I found a YA book that met my hopes and even surpassed them. As far as Young Adult novels go, this is without any doubt one of the most remarkable novels out there, and so far I have not found one more meaningful. This isn't an ideal love story between perfect people, but that’s why it’s perfect. It’s perfect because it’s so desperately human, and there’s some beauty in being that human.

If you've read the synopsis, you’re probably not expecting a light-headed read. Disease is hard. It is a touchy subject, one many people can relate to, though Green handled it beautifully. But don’t you think, even if for a second, that you won’t be able to laugh, too. There are many pieces of wittiness and sass to lift your spirits, many self-aggrandizing words and interesting conversations. It’s amusing, it is fun, and it is smart. However, if you’re like me, you will cry much more. It’s hard not to, since Hazel’s voice telling her own story makes it very personal. This book is not just about cancer, but cancer is as much a part of it as it is a part of the lives of real people with the actual disease.

Nevertheless, I would still not say this is a book about cancer. For me, it’s a book about people. Some of them become their disease, some of them don’t. Just like in real life. It’s about young love, too, and hopes, and anger, and unfairness. It’s a book about people who have done bad things becoming a bit better, as much as it is about the degradation of good people. It’s a book with wailing and crying and screaming for help, which left me emotionally exhausted for days. It’s a book with laughter and promises and hopes, and growing together. It’s a book about small struggles and bigger wars.

It is a book. It is a brilliant book. Much has been spoken and written about this work, a lot better said and written that what I'm capable of. I will say no more on it, because those who haven’t read it yet have yet to realize the full impact words can have in one’s life and vision, and those who have are as scarred as I am, as happy to have found it as I am, and most will probably be at loss for words to explain it better. I know I am.

To Mr. John Green, thank you Sir, thank you very much. It was a privilege to be able to read this book and be a part of these character’s lives. It was a privilege to try and write a love letter to your book, preaching about it in my own clumsy words.

And, if you stranger, are one new to this novel, I can only wish you can find that the world fits in it, as I did.

Read it. Love it.
You’ll understand.



The book in a quote
“What I love about the sculpture is that it makes the bones that we are always walking and playing on manifest, like in a world that so often denies the reality of death and the reality that we are surrounded by and outnumbered by the dead. Here, is a very playful way of acknowledging that and acknowledging that and that always, whenever we play, whenever we live, we are living in both literal and metaphorical ways on the memory and bones of the dead.”


22/05/2013

The Adventures of the Princess and Mr. Whiffles, by Patrick Rothfuss & Nate Taylor




Subtitle: The Thing Beneath the Bed
Publisher: Subterranean Press
Release date: July 2010
Pages: 78
ISBN: 978-1-59606-313-6


Synopsis

This is not a book for children. It looks like a children's book. It has pictures. It has a saccharine-sweet title. The main characters are a little girl and her teddy bear. But all of that is just protective coloration. The truth is, this is a book for adults with a dark sense of humor and an appreciation of old-school faerie tales. There are three separate endings to the book. Depending on where you stop, you are left with an entirely different story. One ending is sweet, another is horrible. The last one is the true ending, the one with teeth in it. "The Adventures of the Princess and Mr. Whiffle" is a dark twist on the classic children's picture-book. I think of it as Calvin and Hobbes meets Coraline, with some Edward Gorey mixed in. Simply said: This is not a book for children.




Opinion

Take it from the original fairy tales, where toes were cut off and hearts ripped out without mercy - there are fairy tales, and then there are children’s books. Some are both these things, but some are not. This is forgotten all too often, especially if the tale in question is illustrated. For some reason, both illustration and animation are deemed childish and safe-for-work more often than they should. Maybe it’s the years of children cartoons, maybe it’s Disney’s influence. Well, no matter. Both these facts stand true: that picture books tend to be regarded as children’s books – and that Rothfuss’s take on them should not be left about for children to find. Such is the nature of this one.

Oh, yes, it starts well. A child princess, a teddy bear, and their imaginary adventures. Stuffed animal wars, cakes and tea, building forts... a kid's way of living. Who didn't have both friends and foes made out of fur and wild imagination when they were little? Who didn't have to check under the bed for some kind of boogie man of their own? However, do not be tricked into sharing your nostalgia with the younger members of the family. A dark-tinged tale, "The Adventures of the Princess and Mr Whiffles" is home to the proverbial thing beneath the bed, and as it turns out, there might be more creatures with teeth along the way. The child princess can end up being much more than you imagine. A heroine. A scared child. Well... it’s the reader’s pick really. In other words, yours. There are three stories in one, after all. I advise you to read each of the endings at a different occasion, every time reading through the book until that point where you want to stop.

Additionally, this book is a work of art in itself. Not only the writing - though it’s well known that every word coming out of Patrick Rothfuss’s mind is art - but also visually. Nate Taylor’s concept was an incredible addition to the story, not only because it’s adorable but also because everything, from the post-bed to Mr. Whiffles’s vacant expression, is remarkably fitting. I would risk to say even more - I’d say the art is flattering to a point where this work could not exist without it. If Rothfuss’s words are the soul of the story, Taylor’s drawings are the perfect body, which shape grants the words freedom to grow bigger, louder. It makes them more meaningful, precisely because you can see the contrast between seemingly innocent details and the words next to them. Go on, try it then. Flip the book to look at the drawings. Just the drawings. It’s pretty, It’s witty. Probably not all that dark, actually. Read the book. Now look closer. Does the princess look all that naive to you? Is the idea of a thing beneath the bed that scary, or is the fact that that long arm with more joints than it should have, stretching, stretching, in drawn form, that makes it worse, in the end?

You can go on this adventure however you like. Envision the story, change it, turn it upside down. It will bemuse and amuse you. With a deliciously dark story and art to match, this is a book all adults with a wicked sense of humour should want on their shelves.

Now, how would you rather have it? A happy ending? A terrifying one? Or would you rather end it with a twist after all? 



The book in a quote
"Its skin was greenish-greyish-brownish. The princess thought it was prickly like a nettle, or scaly like a fish, or slimy like a frog. But it was actually soft, like velvet, so the Thing never made any noise at all when it moved."

09/03/2013

Cinder, by Marissa Meyer


Publisher: Feiwel & Friends
Release date: January 3rd, 2012
Pages: 390
ISBN: 0312641893


Synopsis


A forbidden romance.
A deadly plague. Earth's fate hinges on one girl . . . 
CINDER, a gifted mechanic in New Beijing, is also a cyborg. She's reviled by her stepmother and blamed for her stepsister's sudden illness. But when her life becomes entwined with the handsome Prince Kai's, she finds herself at the centre of a violent struggle between the desires of an evil queen - and a dangerous temptation. Cinder is caught between duty and freedom, loyalty and betrayal. Now she must uncover secrets about her mysterious past in order to protect Earth's future. This is not the fairytale you remember. But it's one you won't forget.


Opinion


I will admit from the very beginning that I was wary about reading this book. The synopsis above was one of the reasons why. After all, nowadays, there are a thousand different Young Adult books written within the same formula: outcast girl falls in love at first sight with heartthrob boy, and after a series of mini plot twists they end together in a happily ever after sort of way. A number of such novels has thrown fairytale elements at this ready-made formula in the hopes of creating something new, which, most of them do not. I thought Cinder would be one of such books. I was pleasantly surprised.

The book starts by introducing Cinder, a cyborg girl, who is in the middle of taking off her old, child sized foot in her booth at the Beijing Market, when a customer approaches her. Immediately she recognizes him as Prince Kai, the same prince whom every girl in the Commonwealth dreams of. Aware that she is one of the best, if not the best, mechanic in Beijing, he asks her to fix his personal android. It is not this, however, that makes sure that their lives become entwined (though not, I should say, necessarily in the romantic sense). 

What does lead to it happens after Kai leaves the market. Cinder and her android, Iko, are in the process of placing Cinder's new foot on her when screams erupt from the market. The plague, they realized, had taken away one of the sellers. The same plague that has been killing Eartheans in every continent for years. The same plague that has taken away Prince Kai's mother and is slowly killing his father, the Emperor. This plague is not the only issue which Cinder and the Commenweatlh have to deal with throughout the book, for there is also the lingering threat of an invasion from the Lunars, the people who live on the Moon. And if that is not enough there are issues such as racism and other complications that every society in the course of history has dealt and been dealing with.

In any other book, it would be expected for Cinder and Kai to come upon one another every ten pages, to claim that they had fallen in love by the middle of the book, and to spend the rest of it snogging and whining about their problems. Not one of these things happens. The number of moments shared between these two characters is relatively small, and the love they eventually share (this story is based on Cinderella, after all) is subtle, natural and only brought up when necessary for the plot. It is, in short, a breath of fresh air.

The way the characters are built is also quite refreshing. Not a single one of the characters is flat and not a single one is a walking cliché, not even the "evil stepmother". All of them feel real and like someone you might meet on the street, including the android Iko, who is so humane that it makes it excruciatingly hard to draw the line between what is robot and what is human. 

In terms of writing, Meyer writes in a style that is fluent, rich and simple, making this book engaging, pleasant and easy to read. Another thing I quite enjoyed about it was how witty the dialogue is, and how every character has a very distinct voice. 

The book is not perfect, however, as Meyer is not quite the best at introducing plot twists. I, at least, answered some of the questions the book presented right after they were asked. Yet, I cannot complain very much about this either as, unlike other authors, when Meyer gives a definitive answer those questions, she does not shove the answers down her readers' throats. She does not present her plot twists in a way that it feels like she is unjustly asking to be bowed down to. She presents those answers the same way she does everything else: as something as natural as breathing.

All of this conjugated with the many philosophical questions that Cinder subtly introduces makes it, in my opinion, one of the best fairytale retellings to date. 



The book in a quote

“Imagine there was a cure, but finding it would cost you everything. It would completely ruin your life. What would you do?” 

05/03/2013

Battle Royale, by Takami Koushun



Publisher: Ota Shuppan
Release date: April 1999
Pages: 666
ISBN: 4872334523



Synopsis

Battle Royale is a high-octane thriller about senseless youth violence, and one of Japan's bestselling - and most controversial - novels. As part of a ruthless program by the totalitarian government, a group of high school students are taken to a small isolated island with a map, food, and various weapons. Forced to wear special collars that explode when they break a rule, they must fight each other for three days until only one remains.



Opinion

Rare is the time when I don’t gravitate toward plots involving dystopian societies and death games. At the the beginning of Battle Royale, third year class B from Shiroiwa Junior High is in a bus, heading toward a school trip. Somewhere along the way, the students fall asleep, only to wake up in an unknown school, before an unknown instructor. The class is then told they were chosen for the Government program that happens every year. They all know what that means – once they step out of that room, they’ll be on their own against their classmates, in danger of getting killed at any time.

This is not a revolutionary premise, and it has been reused unmistakably more, as of late. After all, dark subjects and twisted depictions of the human character tend to sell. As such, I believe there’s a lot of places one can go to for many of the things Battle Royale advertises. The thrilling sensation of the predators, the irrational fear of the chased. Violence, for sure, as it’s to be expected. Depending on whom you ask, these factors can either improve the storytelling, or ruin it.

However, there is a unifying factor in this book, one likely to keep both friends and foes of the genre flipping pages; and that is back-story.

While the main characters are Shuya, the star player, Noriko, his best friend’s crush, and to a certain degree Shogo, the mysterious type with a plan, every student gets his time to shine. Without ever leaving third person narration, the author gives you different points of view throughout the book, ensuring each party has a story arc before meeting (or not meeting) their end. And we’re lucky that is so, since one of the most fantastic aspects of this book is how the students come in all shapes and colours. They are the cliché’d jocks, bullies and nerds, sluts and artists, but they are also victims of abuse, loners, freaks, broken hearts, loved ones. And there are ones that go mad from fear as much as there are ones who revel in killing. Even the couples were distinctively different, which ultimately lead them in different directions.

It was surprisingly refreshing to me that having so many characters could be a good tool for controlling the pacing. Make no mistake, it’s hard to write so many characters and write them well, as unfortunately many other stories show. Granted, Mr. Takami's characters are good, but keeping them apart in the reader’s head… that’s tricky. There are too many times the name alone isn't enough, when you’re not sure any more whether this is the girl that went crazy or the other one in a shed. Or a third girl you never even read about before. Regardless of that flaw, the pacing was perfect. Changing point of view, but not every chapter; writing slowly at first, before describing five deaths in a couple of pages. For keeping the tension high at all times, my hat’s off to the writer.

But there’s more credit to him than that. Mr. Takami has a very good skill that was much needed in this kind of novel: good description. And I don’t mean “blood-red sunset”, scenery-directed description. This skill was put in service to fighting, pain and death. After all, there is a lot of that. There are nearly as many causes of death in this book as there are students, so how to make them memorable? How to make them matter more than just passing side-character deaths? He, for one, made them more visual. Drive an axe into someone’s face creating something similar to a red smile in them. Have brains blow, with pink, and mush, and much spraying. Essentially, he painted a movie inside one’s head, so that the readers cringe enough to remember it later on. As they should, if for nothing else, because Shuya remembers. These kids aren't used to seeing death. They don’t have fun with it, they are terrified. So the reader should remember the action as violent, traumatic, scarring.

Still, nothing is perfect. As much as I would have liked to keep up with my praise, there was indeed, one particular aspect which put me off at all times: half the girl characters being in love with Shuya. It felt unrealistic that all kinds of people just happened to choose him as the subject of their affections. As much as he’s the naïve hero of the story, he can’t be everybody’s crush. At the very least, that made him less appealing to me as a reader. He’s nowhere as enriching to the story as, say, Shogo, who’s a bit of an anti-hero. Or Mistuko Souma. More so with Kazuo, the antagonist without whom there would be no fun to the game.

All in all, Battle Royale is incredibly entertaining. Whether you’re looking for a tragic setting, endless action or merely a study of human nature, my opinion is you can find it in this book.



On the comparison with the Hunger games

Just before the Hunger games reached the silver screen, I distinctly remember lots of people drawing comparisons between the two books. There are, without any doubt, more knowledgeable people than me in regard to the Japanese culture, still, with the Japanese death game type in mind and having read the Hunger Games series, I wasn't convinced. As a habit, I completely disregard recommendations based on sentences like “the new Harry Potter” of “For the fans of Tolkien”. They never correspond to the truth. More often than not tagging creates fake expectations that might disappoint the readers later on, resulting in some dropping an otherwise great book. Unfortunately, there are readers that pay attention to that kind of branding, so I would like to give my view on the matter at hand.

Truth be told, if one would narrow the stories down to its innards, it wouldn't be hard to see the resemblance. Both works have a despotic government that uses the game as a way to manipulate the masses. In both books, there’s a main character trying to survive and find a way out of the game. Both games set teenagers against teenagers, and there can be only one survivor. And with the Hunger Games being broadcast publicly and the Battle Royale process being much more secretive, there is some kind of betting system going on in both.

However, I think the people who narrow it down lost track of the feel. The feel is unmistakably different. The Hunger Games is about Katniss and Peeta much more than Battle Royale is about Shuya and Noriko. The latter is, first and foremost, a journey of discovering how a life of death situation changes different students or reveals their inner self. At its core, it is a collection of individual, often unfortunate, life stories. The Hunger Games is a young adult piece, and while I can agree that there’s much more to it than romance, especially as it develops toward book three, the series isn't anywhere close to the violent, gore-centred Japanese heritage.

Nevertheless, there’s something that I like equally in both of them. They show that there are no wars without scars. It is that perception, along with an exciting ride, that makes both these books worth reading.



The book in a quote

“We're supposed to strive for harmony, and that's what the art of tea is supposed to accomplish... but harmony is very, very difficult to achieve in this country. Tea ceremony is powerless. But it's also not such a bad thing either. You should enjoy it while you can.”

02/03/2013

A Virus Named TOM


By: Misfits Attic
Where: PC (Steam), Playstation Vita
Category: Action/Puzzle

“Destroying Tomorrow, Today!”

So, it’s a game about a virus, one named TOM apparently. Background check? Sure.
So, Mr. Eccentric Scientist here goes about creating a city of the future for this company called Mega-Tech. Robot dogs, sidewalks that take you wherever you want, special tech suits that change your appearance….that kind of thing. Eventually, his eccentric side gets the best of him, and he ends up creating Globotron, a massive robot that “terminates” anyone who doesn’t use his inventions. Needless to say, he gets fired. “‘How is that even profitable’ they said”.
So, as any “normal” Eccentric Scientist, he decides to take revenge on Mega-Tech. This is where you come in. You are TOM, a green funny looking virus created for the sole purpose of giving those idiots at Mega-Tech a lesson.


Contagious Fun

So, how do we go about ruining everything? Easy. Get TOM inside those gadgets and have him turn those circuits into a mess. All you need to do is to spread the infection (green) to the whole circuit and you’re done! That easy? No.
Ok, so the primary objective is to spread the infection to the entire circuit. To do this you have to rotate each piece in a way so that the infection reaches everywhere. The initial circuits are simple, but as you progress, things get difficult. Circuits keep getting bigger and more complex, enemies are added, your time limit (aka Energy) gets lower….in short, a whole bunch of stuff to make your life harder. Still, all these game mechanics are introduced in intervals over the campaign, giving you time to get used to each one of them.
Each gadget is composed of various levels, and from some point up you will start getting Skips, which you can use to (obviously) skip levels. The level will be considered solved, and once you really DO solve it, you’ll get your skip back!



Endless TOMfoolery

There is also a multiplayer campaign with even more complicated puzzles and an additional game element, this time a barrier, preventing players to cross over to the other player’s half of the puzzle. Some of these require two pieces to be rotated at the same time to succeed, so it takes a bit of practice. Additionally, there is a versus mode where you compete with up to 3 friends (the multiplayer campaign also supports up to 4 players) in a custom sized circuit where each player attempts to capture more squares than anyone else. Of course, you can kill other players and get their squares, turning it into a random pool of death and robotic laughs. There’s also a tons of achievements, some of which pretty hard and global score leaderboards (via Steam). It’s such a shame that there’s no online multiplayer (yes, it’s local, so either you have a couple controllers or I surely hope your keyboard can have 10 keys pressed at the same time).

So, in conclusion, if you like a good interactive kind of puzzle and want a good brain teaser, this might just be what you’re looking for. Difficulty gets pretty crazy further down the road. Even more so if you grab a couple of friends.

The game can be found here:

http://store.steampowered.com/app/207650/