I played a game: Pyre

Pyre is a good game.

“What does freedom mean to you?”

Pyre is an absolutely outstanding game, and yet another gem from Supergiant Games.

The game is set in the Downside, where criminals are cast out from the Commonwealth. You are such a criminal. See, you’re a Reader, and reading is forbidden in the Commonwealth. So, out you went.

In the Downside, you run into a group of characters. Rukey, the sketchy businessman Cur (pretty much a humanoid dog); Jodariel, the physically imposing Demon (which is what becomes of humans left in the Downside for too long; and also Hedwin, the benevolent human nomad. Every character in the main group is very well-developed, and end up developing bonds with both you the reader, and each other, resulting in some absolytely wonderful monents of comedy, sorrow, happiness, beauty and so on. There are a lot of interesting characters in the other teams you come up against in the Rites to come, and there are even some interesting relationships in-between members of different teams.

As a Reader, you are one of a few capable people able to conduct Rites, where two teams compete in a sort of Capture the Flag, where you race to collect the orb that spawns in the middle of the map and strive to drop it into the opponents’ Pyre. This douses the Pyre, and whichever teams’ Pyre is extinguished first – loses.

This is complicated by the fact that you can only move one character a time, so you switch between characters and find opportunities to dart forward when an opportunity presents itself. Every character has ways to mess with the opponents – some can throw their aura (pretty much their spiritual power manifesting around them), jump around (some can even fly) and charge into players. Every character has something that’s special for them. It might sound a bit daunting, but it’s quite easy to pick up, and you’ll find preferred teams and ways to play out the game.

The artwork is awesome, as you can tell by any of the preview images. Every frame is absolutely gorgeous, so I probably ended up with well over one thousand screenshots. The character designs look great, as does the backgrounds, etc. It’s very easy to figure out what’s happening in battles, as the visuals are very distinct, even when it does get really chaotic.

Supergiant have been celebrated in the past for their amazing soundtracks, and they’ve done it again. I never tire of hearing the multitude of tracks they manage to come up with. Each setting, whether it’s exploring the map, being in a discussion, or hammering fools in combat, the songs fit brilliantly with the mood.

There is also a story in Pyre, which is quite brilliant in both simplicity and its subtlety. You and the group you travel with seek a way back into the Commonwealth, and you get there by competing in Rites. Supposedly, there’s a way to fight one’s way back home, but how much will it take, and will everybody be able to go back home? In the end – What does freedom mean to you, and what would you do to attain it? It’s much more emotional than I had expected when I initially picked it up, and I was more than a little misty-eyed when the end was approaching.

I was pleasantly surprised with how much we, the players, are allowed to have a voice as the Reader. You get to have your views heard in arguments, get involved with other characters and build relationships with them, and as the groups star-navigator, you are its guide and choose where to go next. It’s a really ingenious way of involving the player very directly in the story, without having us be THE HERO.

One of the most defining things that happen when I finish something truly spectacular, like a good book/film/game/etc is that I feel a little empty inside afterwards. Like I invested a little part of myself into whatever awesome media I just devoured. Such was the case with Pyre, and if it isn’t abundantly clear at this point, I wholeheartedly recommend this wonderful game. It’s a terrific journey, that leads to a very impactful ending. Pyre is Supergiant Games’s strongest game yet, even beating out the wonderful Bastion, and definitely certifies them as a developer whose games are absolutely must-play.

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Animu-time: Fate/Zero

After a gap of probably a good 7 years, I finally decided to watch the prequel to Fate/Stay Night. Woo. Anyway, I can conclude that

Fate/Zero is a good anime.

And I quite think it’s required viewing for the franchise – whether you’re just looking to get into it or are a previous fan. It offers a lot of context to actions of characters in the following works.

To the plot, then. Long story short, it’s a war between seven two-person teams for the Holy Grail. The teams are made up of a human (more than often this human is a mage) and a heroic spirit. By heroic spirit, I mean an actual historic or fictional hero that is basically reincarnated to help their Master (the human) to win the Grail. The Grail is said to have the power to grant miracles, and allows the winner to have a wish be fulfilled – any wish. Heroic spirits come in seven different classes and only one of each is recruited each war. There’s Saber (knight with a sword), Lancer (spearman), Archer (bowman), Caster (mage), Rider (mounted warrior), Assassin (stealthy bugger) and Berserker (insane warrior). The heroic spirits are called Servants.

While Fate/Stay Night (both game and anime) focus much more on a specific character and the people around him, Fate/Zero plays as more of an ensemble show, with most teams being fleshed out and given their time in the spotlight (even if that time is wildly imbalanced, given story development and themes).

So, who are the teams?

  1. Emiya Kiritsugu and Saber – Kiritsugu is hired by the famed Einzbern family after they’re unable to produce a capable representative for the war on their own. Kiritsugu is a highly pragmatic man, looking out for the greater good rather than concerning himself with being moral. His methods of fighting have many similarities with guerilla warfare, but he goes to lengths to avoid as many civilian casualties as possible. He fights in the hope that the grail can help him achieve world peace. Bears the nickname Mage-Killer, having been a hunter of magi for many years, despite being one himself. The Saber class is taken up by the King of Knights, King Arthur of Britain himself – except he is a she. Yes, in this franchise King Arthur is a lady. Strongly principled, Saber has many complaints about Kiritsugu’s tactics and prefers to fight straight-up, as a knight with a code of honour. She fights with a seemingly-invisible sword.

    Saber and Kiritsugu

    Saber and Kiritsugu

  2. Tohsaka Tokiomi and Archer – Tokiomi comes from the famed (in the magical sphere) Tohsaka family, and is one of the shows most capable Masters. He’s very clever and plays out the war very passively from his large estate, and coordinating his actions with his disciple, Kirei. Like Kiritsugu, he’s a very pragmatic man that looks out for his own family and intends to get to the Root (aka, find the centre of the universe – which is a place in the universe the Fate series take place in). He also appears to be quite an awful father, as he’s a mage first and seems rather oblivious towards his family members’ problems. His Servant is Gilgamesh (of the famed Akkadian epic), who is arrogant as can be. Not that hard to believe, as he’s a demigod in his tales. He’s also presented as easily the most powerful of the Servants, which presents a problem to me. I’d rather them all being on roughly the same level, which is what’s true for most of the others. Gilgamesh acts as the primary Servant antagonist, and doesn’t present himself as one might expect a hero to. He fights long-range by launching various weapons from what appears to be a sort of pocked-dimension or whatever (his treasury).

    Tokiomi and Gilgamesh

    Tokiomi and Gilgamesh

  3. Waver Velvet and Rider – Waver (who would give their name such an awful name?) is a young mage studying at the Clock Tower, which is basically the big magi-school of the setting. He proposes that magical skills can develop from training and experience, rather than from lineage – which is shot down by his teacher (also a Master, Lord El-Melloi) from whom Waver decides to steal an artefact and becomes a Master himself. Fights to win the Grail so he’ll finally be acknowledged by his peers. He’s joined by Macedonian legendary conqueror, Alexander the Great. Initially portrayed as a bit of a buffoon, Alexander wastes little time in becoming easily the most entertaining and imposing Servant. His clashes of both mind and blade with Saber and Archer are the series’ best moments. Fights by riding a chariot and has a huge ace up his sleeve.

    Alexander and his Master, Waver

    Alexander and his Master, Waver

  4. Keyneth Archibald El-Melloi and Lancer – Pretentious dick-bag nobleman and teacher at the Clock Tower, El-Melloi is arguably the most powerful Master of the lot, and has found a way to share his mastery with his arranged wife, Sola-Ui Nuada-Re Sophia-Ri (holy wow, that’s an actual name that the creators came up with, wtf), whom he has sort of a distant relationship with but appears to try and prove himself to her while she scolds his efforts. Very healthy marriage, there. El-Malloi aims to win to grow his fame as a mage. His/their Servant is Diarmuid Ua Duibhne from Irish folk-lore, lover of the wife of another folk-legend in Fionn mac Cumhaill, and lethal spearman. Diarmuid is an interesting character, and it would have been interesting to see what would have been done with him if given more screen-time. His central scene (you’ll know it when you see it) is brilliant anime. Lancer fights with two spears (one red, one yellow) that have different gimmicks.
  5. Matou Kariya and Berserker – Kariya is an estranged member of the Matou family, from which he ran away after being disgusted with his relatives. He decides to compete for the Grail to save the daughter of his childhood friend and object of his affections, Aoi (Tokiomi’s wife, who Kariya gave up chasing). Due to this, he re-enters the Matou-family as their representative in the Grail War, and accepts the “aid” of his grandfather, who implant magical parasitical insects into Kariya to enable him to become a Master. As a result, he grows more end more inhuman as the show carries on, struggling to keep his humanity and stay alive long enough to fulfil his promise and thereby save the little girl. Berserker is a secret character that you’ll have to identify yourselves, but I’ll tempt you with the knowledge that he’s connected to Saber somehow (so if you know your Arthur-lore you can probably venture an accurate guess, as it’s not a big surprise). He’s ridiculously powerful and can basically hi-jack other weapons to use them as his own, as well as using a nasty longsword.
  6. Uryuu Ryuunosuke and Caster – “Ryu” as I’ll call him for shortness’ sake, is a serial killer that unwittingly summons Caster while murdering a family. He prefers targeting children and young women. Has no real objective in the war, other than to watch Caster creatively kill people. Caster is Gille de Rais, a former comrade in arms to Jeanne d’Arc, whose life ended in depravity, as he was hanged for multiple child murderers (the amount of murders he committed in real life was possibly hundreds). Curiously, Caster believes Saber to be Jeanne d’Arc reborn (if his memory is to believed, the two do look strikingly similar) and sets out to make her mine. Like his Master, Caster is basically devoid of any morality and likes to psychologically and physically torture his victims for maximal terror before he kills them. He also appears to be a cultist of Cthulhu, as he says what I’m pretty sure is “Cthulhu ftagn” before brutally killing a child in his first scene. Yikes. Caster uses a wide variety of magic to combat the other Servants.
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  7. Kotomine Kirei and Assassin – Kirei is the son of the Church’s representative (the one who as a mediator and rule-setter of the war), which makes him a controversial choice for a Master. He’s also a magical disciple of Tokiomi, who he initially intends to win the Grail for. He serves as the series’ primary antagonist, and rival of sorts to Kiritsugu. He is skilled in magic and incredibly gifted in martial combat. His servant is Hassan-i Sabbāh and can take the form of many assassins at once. A stealth attacker that uses poisons and small blades.

Even if I did say that the show is an ensemble show, it still has clear protagonists in Kiritsugu and Saber. His story takes precedent over the ones of the other Masters, with Kirei being the exception, and he has a back-story that is extensively shown to the viewer. Saber has the most of the encounters with other Servants and is set on being the sole survivor to correct her past, which shames her.

The big joy of Fate/Zero is the focus on having a larger cast of characters. I always felt that the Fate franchise needed to use a broader viewpoint on the war, even if the most famous installment, Fate/Stay Night, does very well with a much-more focused story.

Thus, we’re able to be treated to scenes like the wonderful garden drinking session with Arthur, Alexander, and Gilgamesh, regaling their kingly tales and discussing ambitions. It allows for much greater characterisation of the Servants and allows the viewer to pick favourites for other reasons that the initial, “He, that bloke looks cool”.

The Banquet of Kings - probably the best scene of the entire show.

The Banquet of Kings – probably the best scene of the entire show.

Alexander is the best example for why the show should be presented like this. In F/SN he’d likely not have gotten much attention at all, and gone down as a rowdy fool. In this, he’s able to fully show what he’s like – his desires, his personality, his quirks, likes, etc. His sparring, both verbal and martial, with Saber and Gilgamesh, as well as the effect he has on people around him, makes him the most intriguing character of the entire show. The development of Waver and the relationship between Alexander and his Master is absolutely fantastic.

One of the pairings, while not wholly bad, is very frustrating to me; That pair is Caster and Ryuunosuke. Their screen-time mostly consist of them killing the fuck out of whatever people they manage to and going on crazy rants on why killing is awesome. Caster is also played like a total loonie and doesn’t feel like much of a threat for much of his participation.

The pacing of the entire show is also frustrating and is at times absolutely unbearable. It takes quite some time for some things of actual importance to happen, and the climax of the show doesn’t make up for the looooooooooong build-up. The decision to spend a lot of time on Kiritsugu’s back-story turns out to be a mistake, when you consider what that time could have been spent doing for the rest of the cast.

Kirei is a good antagonist, to be sure, but his character is so frustrating. He’s basically an emotional cold drone who follows orders because why not, and looking for something to engage him mentally and emotionally. This thing turns out to be causing pain to others and just being a horrible person in general. He’s perfectly hate-able, though, which works well for a story like this.

Also, Saber. I might be in the minority here, but I fucking hate that she’s a gender-bent King Arthur. Absolutely nothing against her character, but it feels like a choice only meant for her to be a love interest in her more famous role in Fate/Stay Night. Maybe it’s that I’m partial to the saga of Arthur that I react with hostility to this adaptation. It also makes little sense that she’d be able to rule as a man, being that she’s always noted as being a beautiful girl in F/SN. It just makes little sense that she’d show up as a girl, after being remembered as a man. She should just have been Jeanne d’Arc, in all honesty. That said, her arc in Fate/Zero is awesome, as he’s continually verbally bitch-slapped by Alexander, Gilgamesh and Kiritsugu, and it sets the table well for her part in F/SN, where you can tell her actions are strongly influenced by her experiences in Fate/Zero.

Comparison between Saber and Jeanne d'Arc for posterity.

Comparison between Saber and Jeanne d’Arc for posterity.

The animations of Fate/Zero is world-fucking-class. It’s especially apparent in battles and other important scenes. Most of the character designs are very nice, with Caster sticking out like an awfully ugly sore thumb.

The voice-acting is absolutely superb all across the board. Naming examples is worthless, as everybody are on top of their game. Kawasumi Ayako can probably play Saber in her sleep at this point.

Now then, we’re headed for spoileriffic territory, so be warned in reading on if you haven’t seen the show yet, as these are big spoilers. So, yeah, they’ll be in white text below. Just highlight that shit and enjoy?

The ending is fucking stupid. The Grail being so limited in eventual execution of Kiritsugu’s wish is fucking pathetic – especially as it states that it’s way is Kiritsugu’s way. According to his portrayal on the show, this is so far from the actual truth. He’s been shown to avoid mass civilian casualties at the pivotal times of his story, so why does the show all of a sudden portray him as someone who’d be okay with slaughtering a huge amount of people to achieve his goals. While it’s true that he will go to great lenghts to survive and win, he’s never shown to be bloodthirsty or be careless with lives. I get that this show had to end a certain way, but the way they went about doing it is stupid.

Also, again on Kirei – This motherfucker is ridiculously powerful. He literally deflects bullets with his blades, and can destroy a human’s heart with one punch. He also blocks bullets with bare skin (or an invisible barrier – but it’s ridiculous in any way. Yeah, it’s action, but come the fuck on. All the stakes and excitement of a scene goes away in just about every action scene he’s in.

In conclusion, Fate/Zero is an excellent anime with a great cast of characters and an engaging story. It has its share of flaws, but it a thoroughly engaging experience. I recommend it to basically anyone.

Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaand done! I’ll probably do Unlimited Blade Works next. Yay. Have a nice day and thanks for reading.

Film Night: Captain America: The First Avenger

Since I made my way through Agent Carter already (more on that when I can be arsed), I figured I may as well watch the first CA-film to get a bit more back-story on her. Now, I wish I hadn’t.

Captain America: The First Avenger is a bad film.

To no great surprise, mind you. I remember the film being destroyed by critics when it came out, and while i don’t usually give a shit about what critics think, they made a lot of alarm bells go off. Or rather, they confirmed what I thought the film would be like.

CA:TFA is the origin film for Steve Rogers, aka Captain America. And it’s just about as bad and patriotic as you would have imagined. It’s like Marvel got drunk and watched Pearl Harbor before deciding to make a character based on it. That said, I’m pretty sure Cap was create earlier. Sorry, my point is that the character is hilariously dated and awful.

The film chronicles Rogers’ rise from hilariously thin kid trying to sign up for the army, to being made the Captain and saving the world.

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The fated face-off between bland protagonist and bland antagonist.

Rogers is an all-round swell guy. His parents died and he’s wanting to make a difference. Clearly signing up for the army is the answer. There’s just the fact that he’s thinner than even most hardcore shut-ins and has had numerous diseases throughout his life. Nobody with common sense would admit him to be a soldier. But of course it can’t end there! So a German (so the film can get the Germans!=Nazis statement out of the way for posterity right away) scientist (played by Stanley Tucci) decided to overrule the dastardly army recruiters and signs up Rogers for an army project under the lead of the SSR (Strategic Scientific Reserve, or something like that). There are some tests, which don’t amount to much considering Rogers fails them all (but hey, at least he failed them in a charming way) and still gets picked for the trial run of the super soldier project.

In an especially stupid scene, to gauge the recruits’ “guts,” Tommy Lee Jones’ army commander character throws a dummy grenade into the hard-working trainees. Everybody but Rogers runs away. Instead, Rogers tries to cover the grenade. Agent Carter (the very one who now is the lead of a TV series, yes) also appears to be heading towards the blast. This is apparently what Jones’ character was looking for. Suicidal people. Like, what the fuck, aren’t you supposed to avoid getting killed? Can you smother a grenade blast with nothing but your body? I’m pretty sure that’s not a thing, especially not possible for someone of Rogers’ small frame. But we’re here to watch a hero grow, aren’t we? So we’ll have to suck it up and check of another cliché as we are lead on.

The problems continue as the stupidity levels get higher and higher.

  • A HYDRA (bad guys) spy is allowed entry to the super secret super soldier (super super super) project, and kills the lead scientist.
  • Carter snipes a guy at least fifty meters away while aiming a pistol with one hand. Probably possible, but looks dumb as shit (a real agent would have used both hands).
  • Carter inexplicably falls for Rogers, despite having only met him like twice, and only ever sharing a couple sentences with him. Not to forget, she totally gets all wet for him after the transformation. Because nothing gives a woman an orgasm like huge muscles. What I’m trying to say, is that Carter is written like you’d expect. She’s a young little foal for Cap to hug and make her his. Or something. The point is that it’s lazy, unoriginal, sexist and plain bad writing.
  • Cap decides to go on a suicide mission, because suddenly he’s an army of one. He succeeds very easily, too. Of course Carter (because, as she says later “I had faith”. IN ONE MAN AGAINST SEVERAL HUNDRED NAZIS ROCKING FUTURISTIC WEAPONRY? HOW ARE YOU AN ACTUAL AGENT?) helps him out. As does Howard Stark, because he needs the screen-time. And he’s an amazing pilot for reasons.
  • Jones’ character decides that Cap should not get reprimanded for launching a crazy mission, risking losing one of the most valuable medicinally scientific advances… ever? Yeah, just give him a pat on the back, there, bruv.
  • Natalie Dormer shows up to be eye candy and kiss the Cap.
  • All other characters are caricatured stereotypes of soldiers. One even has a huge handlebar ‘stache.
  • To test a shield, Carter just starts shooting at Rogers. Would have been quite the shame if the shield was shit, huh?
  • Rogers’ buddy falls to his death and hardly anybody gives a shit. Rogers tries to drink, because that’s the adult thing to do. Nope, he can’t get drunk. So sad. And lost in it all is the fact that we never saw the two being very friendly at all. In fact, it seemed more like the guy was being an ass to Rogers.
  • Schmidt/Red Skull is supposed to be a great scientist and so very clever, but he’s pathetically outwitted at every twist and turn. There’s no conflict.
  • Rogers spontaneously learns how to fly a plane later when he has to catch up to Red Skull. He even pulls evasive manoeuvres. I’d laugh if I wasn’t so bored.
  • Rogers states that he doesn’t want to kill Nazis in the beginning of the film, but later kills a ton with reckless abandon. He even goes out of his way to kill some that he could have just knocked out. Some violence is all of a sudden very gratuitous for some reason. Like the dude falling into the plane rotor.
  • “I got to put her in the water,” Cap says of the plane he’s aboard, it being armed with missiles and all. Then he crash-lands on a huge flat of ice. What the fuck, wouldn’t that explode the missiles? And I’m pretty sure with the velocity he’s going, the surface of the water would shred that plane.
  • (Slight spoiler) When Bucky dies, it’s painfully obvious that he’s wired up, as he straightens up and then falls over again as he’s falling. Couldn’t get a better take than that?

The acting is so-so. Chris Evans didn’t ever look comfortable in the role. He was much better in The Avengers (where he’s made to look smarter and actually competent as a leader). Hayley Atwell is wasted as a love-struck Agent Carter (very different from her strong, independent persona in her own series). Dominic Cooper exudes arrogance and charisma as Howard Stark. Well casted, but he had little to do in the film.

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Tommy Lee Jones turns up to collect a pay-check. Stanley Tucci is decent, but has very limited screen-time. Toby Jones quietly pulls out a great performance as Red Skull’s subordinate, Dr. Zola. And Hugo Weaving plays the Nazi antagonist in a suitably over-the-top creepy manner.

The actions scenes are stupid and over-choreographed. Danger never feels present, as characters are always waiting for cues as to what to do next. It’s stale, unimaginative and just plain boring.

And that’s about it. Don’t watch this film, y’all.

Manga Musings: Naruto

Holy shit, it’s finally over.

So, Naruto. One of the Big Three (joined by Bleach and One Piece), unless their status has changed. No matter, though. Anyway, I did use the word “finally,” indicating that it’s something I’ve waited for for some time now. It’s true. Somewhere along the line, the sheer length and meandering pace got me turned off of Naruto, so it was a happy moment when I noticed that it had ended, since I’d give me a reason to pick it up again. Like running, it’s easier to read when you have a goal. So, what about this ninja story, 15 years in the making?

Naruto is a good manga.

By VitalikLoL over at deviantart

This’ll have two parts – one with no to minimal spoilers, and a second, spoiler-filled part.

Having its start way back in 1999, Naruto is one of the modern successors of Dragon Ball, in theway it places its values and builds its story. Like Goku, Naruto starts out virtually alone. Naruto, though, is alone because of the fear the other villagers holds for him. You see, inside Naruto dwells a monster – A monstrous nine-tailed fox that nearly levelled the village before it was sealed into Naruto. Despite his social seclusion, Naruto has a dream: To become Hokage, recognised as the most powerful ninja in the village. And so starts the trials and tribulations of Naruto. He’s quickly placed in a team with Sakura, a girl he’s liked from a distance for a time; Sasuke, the sole surviving member in the village of the incredibly powerful ninja clan Uchiha; and Kakashi, a world-renowned ninja with an unorthodox teaching style. Together, they form Team 7 and go on missions and adventures together.

It’s kind of hard to judge the story of Naruto at first, because it’s kind of aimlessly chronicling the growth of Naruto into a more mature young man (he’s not even a teenager when the manga starts). It’s an interesting set-up for a shounen manga, considering it puts the characters in situations where they have to kill as they are just children. But the ninja world has not a care for your age, just your capability- is what I’d like to say, but good luck pushing out 700 chapters of a bleak, survivalist manga through Weekly Shounen Jump. Naruto instead falls into its oft-criticised “befriend them to death”-formula, where Naruto’s sheer perseverance and good-heartedness lights a path to victory. Maybe it sounds like I’m dissing it, but I really like it – to a point. The first part is a very strong manga, thanks to some great character work and rather brave story-telling that you don’t normally see in straight shounens.

To the characters, then. Surely the most important aspect of a long manga. Does Naruto succeed in creating memorable characters that keep you coming back? The answer is obviously yes, due to its enormous popularity, but in a very limited way. Hardly any characters except for the main quartet gets any real development, and one in the quartet itself is so poorly written it feels like an affront to manga in general.

“How’s Naruto, then? Surely the main character is well written?” Yeah, I’d say so, and I’d say that Kishimoto succeeds in having the story led by Naruto’s motivations and actions, rather than Naruto always being led around the nose. That said, he’s uncompromising in a way that is endearing at first, but becomes ridiculous naïvety as the manga grows older. Like with almost all other aspects of the story, Naruto’s growth through the story doesn’t work with the growth of the readers. Say you were 15 when Naruto started. You’re 30 now. Still, the tone of the manga and the characters have hardly moved an inch. It’s weird. I’m an adult now, but Naruto’s still a kid with training-wheels. Harsh, yes, but so was reading the final act.

A lot of that can be simply attributed to the fact that Naruto is just a young man throughout the manga, even if he does grow up, to an extent. But his growth is made nearly void at times, with other characters having become leaps and bounds more mature and responsible. While he’s still young, a lot of the focus of the manga is pointed at young ninjas having to grow up quick or die.

As far as the character itself, Naruto can be looked at quickly and have you say “he’s just another stupid, strong lead character.” Thing is, Naruto is about as far from that trope as you’ll get in shounen manga, while still being forced into its trenches. He’s brash, crude and very rash, yes, but he’s also very intelligent and compassionate. He can both plan ahead and come up with tactics in a hurry, given him being very flexible. That’s what makes it even more frustrating when Kishimoto makes him into a staunch redeemer who basically befriends people to death. Where’s the Naruto that makes tough calls for the greater good (the greater good)? He sure isn’t in this manga. Having been possessed by the Kyuubi since birth, you’d expect Naruto to be more pessimistic at least some of the time, and make some bad decisions out of old hatred. But we can’t have darker character development, can we, Kishimoto? That’s not to say that Naruto doesn’t have his share of dark moments, but I feel it’s an area that was sorely unexplored.

As for the other main characters:

Kakashi is the team leader, and the adult of the group. Having become a high-level ninja at a young age, he knows how to make tough decisions and has no great qualms about killing. As a teacher, he is strict, but loving, and comes to see his three trainees as children with time. He’s calm and collected, nearly always finding time in battle to come up with a plan to strike. He’s also obsessed with reading a certain romantic series that later becomes embraced as a running gag and story development. He’s also got a special tool – one of his eyes house a special eye (kind of hard to explain, but special eyes basically make you able to use better ninja-techniques) that allows him to easily see his opponents’ moves and intercept them with incredible speed. Being a high-level ninja, Kakashi is proficient in every sort of jutsu (technique, as in “ninjutsu” = ninja technique) around, and he seems to have virtually no weaknesses.

Sasuke is a pretty standard shounen cool-guy character. He’s handsome, calm and collected, and of course he’s incredibly talented. He’s also got a bloodline limit (aka a power limited to those who share a specific bloodline) that is ridiculously powerful, and whose evolution throughout the series becomes even more and more far-fetched. I went from initially hating Sasuke, to actually kind of accepting him, and then hating him again. What’s frustrating with Sasuke is that, like many other characters in the series, his rationale and actions are haphazardly altered to fit the story. This leads to some awful reasons for his actions and his constant switching between good and evil, which grows extremely tiresome. It’s also hilariously predictable to see where he’s going to end up, so most of his scenes become a drag.

Onto Sakura, the most frustrating part of the main cast. Is it because Sakura is a bad character? Well, duh. Sakura is this series’ damsel in distress. That’s not to say that she’s absolutely useless, or that she doesn’t have any redeeming qualities, because she does have some good moments. But it’s all brought down due to her basically being a love-slave to Sasuke. Whether he tries to off her or is just being a standoffish douche-hat, Sakura is perpetually enamoured with him. Even as she grows up to be a (supposedly) more mature young lady, she still clings to this saddening pretence of what love’s supposed to be. The subject of love in manga/anime is almost always a source of vitriol for me, as it’s almost always written abominably bad. The Sakura-Sakuke dynamic is another one of those. At least the series’ other major (major being arguable) romantic angle, Hinata being into Naruto, has some legs to stand on (despite how rarely Hinata has any meaningful part in the plot) as she actually gives reasons for being in love with our goofy lead man. Sakura’s like a programmed woman, designed to submit herself whenever Sasuke shows up. It’s kind of a slap in the face where Sakura ends up after having been given no deeper explanation during the series’ 700 effin’ chapter run. I think ladies reading Naruto will feel insulted, and with good reason. I don’t think Kishimoto hates women, but I do think he’s clueless to how to write them.

Most of the supporting cast are what they need to be and are playing their simple roles. There’s the gutsy ones, the comedy relief ones, the cool ones, the smart ones, and so on. It’s very standard fare for shounen manga.

Finishing up with art: It’s nice. Sorry, I’m not an artist. The initial art starts out very so-so, as Kishimoto is finding his style, and moves on to be quite sleek and very pretty. The backgrounds can be quite lazy, but it’s not my biggest complaint, so no bother.

Finishing up the spoiler-free part, Naruto isn’t really something I’d recommend for anyone else but someone who wants to read a big shounen adventure. Naruto might be right up your alley, or you might absolutely hate it. I’ve learned to tolerate it, and think there are enough redeeming qualities in it (I mean, I finished 700 chapters of this saga) to warrant a passing grade. Naruto uses a lot of build-up that ends up going nowhere and/or being shafted for more “acceptable” reading. I get the reasoning, but it’s not for me any longer.

I’m looking to go more into the ninja theme with Nabari no Ou next, for what it’s worth.

Alright, lads. Spoilers are on from now. YOU’VE BEEN WARNED.

Naruto‘s main problem to me is the lack of a focus, as it just leads to five different plots at once. Naruto going off on his own and other characters given time as well. The second part of Naruto is the glaring example of this. After the time-skip, characters just haven’t changed in general, which makes it pretty fucking meaningless.

Most arcs after the time-skip are sooooooo looooong, and the ninja war being the biggest offender. Everybody gets a mega level-up and are epic-ing their faces off at everything moving and it’s just become so blasé at this point. The Akatsuki arc has a promising start, but loses traction very early and just spins it’s wheels until Naruto shows up to pummel it to dust, with kindness. Sigh. Technically it lasts until the end, but nobody really thought of the ending as Naruto vs Akatsuki, did they? Thought so.

Also, how many training arcs are there? Man, Naruto stood on its own legs for a while, and then went complete Dragon ball with the characters’ developments.

The final pairings are also a complete joke in some aspects. Sasuke and Sakura being married has to be the most abusive relationship ever. I’m okay with Kakashi being named Hokage, even if it didn’t seem like a role he’d ever want to have. Others are just paired together due to fan demand, which I guess works.

Like many people, I think the series lost its way somewhere after the time-skip (even if the final arc before that was hilariously bad).

Plaid Games: Watch_Dogs

Watch_Dogs is a good game,

but hold your horses, don’t let that be the one thing you take from this. While well-designed and at times a pleasure to play, Watch_Dogs is riddled with enough problems to warn of a lot of players.

So pretty, unlike most of the actual game, which is passable for the level of technology involved.

So pretty, unlike most of the actual game, which is passable for the level of technology involved.

So, I read that Watch_Dogs is Ubisoft’s quickest selling games or something like that, and I feel that’s down to a lot of misinformation. What I got from most of the teasers and game-play videos was that we’d be up against a crooked system in Watch_Dogs, and take it down with a clever use of hacking (and guns, since it’s basically a GTA-clone) and wit. Well, the system is barely touched upon, and the hacking is boring and easy. At least the gun-play is decent. Let’s get more into it, then.

The story of Watch_Dogs is an abomination. Or in more colourful terms, it’s wank. It revolves around Aiden Pearce, and the whirlwind of disaster he brings everywhere he goes. The game would have you think it’s a conspiracy against him, but really he brought nearly all of it on himself. Oh well. Aidan and his mentor, Damien Brenks, perform  a digital heist on the Merlaut hotel, presumably for money and information, with Aiden as point man and Damien doing the actual hacking. Damien notices that there’s another hacker on the system and tries to find out who, despite Aiden telling him not to. Aiden runs out, but him and Damien are already noticed by the system. Aiden and Damien are found and hurt by the people they tried to take stuff from. Damien gets away with a bum leg, but Aiden loses his niece, who is caught in the crossfire (CROSS-FIRE!) when fixers (supposedly hired guns, but they seem a bit too organised in general to be just that) come for him. Aiden can’t let go, and wants to get the people responsible. Then he sets off a chain of events that’ll leave everyone around him worse than before, and himself a shallow, broken sociopath. Yaaaaay. More on the spoilery bits later.

The game-play is probably the one thing that escapes the game with its dignity intact. It’s very good, but that’s expected from big budget games, isn’t it? No bonus points here. The car driving mechanics and physics are enjoyable enough to have you taking detours and joyrides. There’s a lot of different vehicles to choose from, including motorcycles and boats. The cars are on the slippy-slide side of the scale though, which can make for some frustrating high-speed driving. The gun-play and general combat is excellent. The cover mechanics, which are in just about every game ever today, are well done and the shooting feels great, if not too easy. Some enemies can tank a frustrating amount of damage, especially enervating when they run up to your face despite you offering your complaints with a semi-automatic shotgun to the face. Stealth works well usually, with the AI sometimes a it too dumb to be realistic, allowing you to use a combination of nifty hacking and clever movement to take down multiple enemies without being detected.

There are several activities you can give a go at. Some of the more mini-game ones I’ve heard are pretty bad and a waste of development time, which I have to agree with, considering how little time must’ve been spent on the story and characters. Others like Fixer Contracts, are pretty decent, giving you a break from the story and just driving around or whatever the objective is. Then there are Gang Hideouts, which are pretty stupid missions where you have a gang lieutenant to take down and then wipe out the rest of the gang for no reason other than why the fuck not. Then Criminal Convoys, where you’re supposed to take down convoys of criminals (no surprise, right?), but it’s ridiculously hard until you get extremely overpowered weapons later in the game. Finally, one of the the best parts of the game is being a vigilante, as ctOS (central Operating System, which runs most of the city’s electronic stuff) detects crime – which allows you to track down potential crimes. You then scout the location and try to intervene when shit goes down. Sometimes it’s just simple muggings and then at times it’s straight up murder you have to stop. It was really fun at the beginning, but as the story escalated, it felt a bit bland and uninteresting. Good effort, though.

The game is pretty. Not much else to say. It’s funny that it’s been billed as a next-gen game, but looks a couple years old, in all honesty. The characters themselves look pretty decent but then again, that’s to be expected.

Sound direction is decent enough. The radio has a good selection of tunes to listen to (yay for some Rise Against). The voice acting is generally good, but some characters are miscast, especially Aiden, who feels like he’s hardcore channelling his inner Bale Batman (“Swear to meeeeee!”). Guns and vehicle sound effects sound rather decent, I’ll say and be done on the subject.

The characters are fucking atrocious. Aiden is terrible, and he’s the lead character, dammit. He has virtually no personality and is hell-bent on fixing something he clearly brought on himself for being a greedy son of a bitch. He’s got one reaction to anything, and it’s silent rage. He almost never tells the player his rationale, instead he just sits on the rail-road towards the next checkpoint. His family have basically no characters themselves. His sister seems like a well enough person, but seems a bit too easy on accepting shit coming her way. Her and Aiden have a hilariously bad conversation, breaking out sibling banter when she’s allowed a minute on the phone by her kidnapper. Oh yeah, her kidnapper, Damien. Remember him? Yeah, that’s the guy who was Aiden’s partner. He’s an even worse sociopath than Aiden and seems to have lost track of any semblance of morality. He kidnaps the sister to have Aiden dance to his flute, and does some of the most unexplained shit I’ve ever seen in a game. Oh, and he’s a mega haxx0r, brah. Then there’s Clara, the tattoo artist slash bad-ass hacker (because nobody in this game will conform to the average hacker stereotype) and love interest by virtue of being the only female character. And also T-Bone, the game’s only likeable character and goof-ball. Then there’s Jordi, who the game continually forgets is available, so don’t feel bad for forgetting about him. He’s kind of funny, but an arsehole.

It’s a good game, but nothing more. It’s not a game you’ll re-play and not one to sit glued to during the late hours. Pick it up on a sale if you really want to try it, but I don’t recommend buying Watch_Dogs, as it’s not a great load of fun compared to what’s on the market.

From now on there will be spoilers.

The story is written like some hilariously bad fan-fiction by someone who’s read some bleak sci-fi and watched a couple of episodes of Person of Interest. ctOS is hardly introduced or even discussed at all. It’s just there to be exploited by hackers. Damien kidnapping the sister (I don’t remember her name as she’s totally forgettable) is so predictable it make me face-palm hard enough to get a concussion. It’s made even more weird and dumb by him being all crazy and definitely intending to kill her and Aiden because he’s just such a bad fellah. Luckily Aiden is a bigger bad-ass and kills everyone else first. Woo. Lucky Quinn being the man behind the conspiracy is so dumb and uninspired it makes my head hurt. Why are there always really old men that are antagonists in techno thrillers, especially when set in present time. How the fuck do they even have the knowledge to do stuff related to technology? My grandmother can use Facebook, but struggles with anything more (I love her for trying, though). Then that gang-banger “Iraq” having blackmail on just about anyone in the city is so ridiculous. How does this hood-rat have so much computing talent and resources enough to do that? And the fact that they expect us to buy that he uses that to strong-arm the police of a huge city like Chicago away from his turf is laughable. Can’t they just use the ctOS to fuck him over? Nope, because hackers are cool, that’s why.Seriously. There’s another hacker called “Defalt” (lol, really?) that’s slightly foreshadowed and then owns your base up the arse. He’s then killed off a mission later, so that’s that. Epic villains in this game, Ubisoft. Let’s not forget the scene when Damien takes control of the entire ctOS and uses it against Aiden. He really hacks the entire city and brings it under his control. Of course, there’s a back-door where Aiden plants a virus, and then goes to find and kill Damien, in the most anti-climactic ending to a game in a long time.

The game should have been about Aiden and a small group of hackers fighting against the brutal ctOS and the corrupt officials hammering down on the common man. Not the most original, but effective and surely better than the mess that is Watch_Dogs. Oh yeah, you remember DeadSec? The hacking group you though would have a big part in the game. They’re hardly around, and in the end, Aiden just shrugs them off. Apparently he figures better at guarding the city. Cunt.

Don’t buy Watch_Dogs.

Animu-time: Kurozuka

NOTICE: Hi. What you’re reading is an old review from when I was using a different template. It was kind of ugly, so I switched. If I make a mention of spoilers going to be blacked out, they won’t be. Sorry. It’s just so long ago I wrote this and it’s a bother to go back and edit it extensively. Sorry if you get spoiled, but I’m pretty sure I didn’t put any major spoilers in anything without giving big warnings about it first. Cheers.

Kurozuka is a bad anime

You don’t know what to expect when you dive into Kurozuka. While this is true for a lot of other anime as well, Kurozuka is a special enigma. Being about vampires (especially the main leads) can turn people off, seeing how vampires are often portrayed nowadays. Sadly, thoughts hop to Rob Pattinson as Edward in the cringe-inducing soft pornography for girls known as Twilight. Sure, Twilight isn’t the only sinner, but due to it’s popularity, it is the most stand-out. Onwards to Kurozuka, then.

On first on-look, Kurozuka seems to be a love story about vampires, set in Feudal Japan. That preconception is quickly smashed to bits after the first episodes as we skip to a bleak future version of Japan that has been a-bombed. Back in the past, our hero Kuro (known as “Minamoto no Yoshizune”, a very famous and popular Japanese literature hero) was fleeing into the mountains, and came upon the lodging of Lady Kuromitsu. He and his close ally Benkei were allowed to stay under the condition that they do not approach nor enter Kuromitsu’s room. Of course, that promise doesn’t mean all too much and Kuro finds himself outside the mysterious woman’s room, where he sees her biting and drinking the blood of a man. The place is attacked, and Kuro is badly hurt helping his hostess. The two had quickly became attracted to one another, and Kuromitsu offers Kuro eternal life with her. Kuro accepts. Then the focus shifts to the future where Kuro has become separated from Kuromitsu and ventures to find her. He instead meets Karuta and Rai and becomes embroiled in what is basically a civil war between the Red Army and the rebels, both fighting for the very prize Kuro seeks: Kuromitsu.

Omnom, human blood.

Omnom, human blood.

I was pretty excited to watch this, as it felt like vampires were treated as a big deal and it also seemed like a cool set-up for a powerful romantic saga, but alas, all the potential amounted to jack shit in this absolute train-wreck of a series.

The series jumps from different time periods, usually at the start of episodes, without giving the viewer much warning or explanation, which is the major flaw of the series in my opinion. It’s very hard to get a grip on the characters as is, so there’s really no need to confuse viewers additionally.

It’s hard to gauge what exact powers are afforded to the vampires of the series, as Kuro just seems to go all Goku on people at times when he needs to put another gear in. Besides obviously being more powerful than normal humans, there doesn’t seem to be much to vampires, other than whatever odd time dilution Kuro can cause when convenient. It’s never really explained what they can do. The reveal of how they work is also incredibly slow-played, so there’s not much in the way of flavour being given to us, except for some bursts of information at times.

As is the case with the vampirism angle, characters in the series don’t really develop. They’re very static in personalities and in what they do. Not even the main character ever develops, he just learns more about who he was. Frankly it’s very disappointing, because when things happen to our tragic heroes, it’s hard to care about them as they’ve just been one-dimensional plot-points. That can work if you have strong characters to begin with, but as noted, these characters are dull as hell. You also get some unintentional comedy in the absolutely bonkers scientist with a penchant for torture, who starts quoting Stoker (because you have to fucking shoehorn that into a vampire show like your life depended on it) and Tolstoy, and is generally weird as hell.

The story is equally odd. Parts of it just comes and goes as it pleases, like there’s a revolving door of relevance. It really is hard to care about what is happening when you don’t grasp the relevance of events to one-another. Characters just do complete one-eighties in order to provide more filler before the end finally arrives. It really is a shame, because it felt like it was to be a show that made vampires rather cool again, but the amount of plot-holes and contrivances really do get in the way of enjoying it. All of the reveals towards the end just made me laugh out loud with their increasing craziness, until we arrive in bizarro-world come the ending.

Welcome to Fuck-This-Shit City, Population: You.

Welcome to Fuck-This-Shit City, Population: You.

Visually, it’s very pleasing for most of the time and there is a lot of incredible imagery, but then you get some absolutely retarded character designs that feel like they invaded from another series.

The sound design is pretty decent, but many characters in the series are woefully miscast and a lot of the performances are really bad. The soundtrack, however, is pretty damn awesome. Both the OP and ED are great.

Now, I’ve been shitting on Kurozuka a lot, but the final scenes shows up and delivers the best possible ending the series could have had and I really freaking loved it, so I’m ultimately torn on where to go with the series; good or bad? Ultimately, with all the tomfoolery, I’ll go with bad, but there’s certainly enough good in here that a person that disagrees with what I found negative would find this to be a damn good show. It also increases my frustration with the series’ unfulfilled potential. The run-time of the entire thing is way too long relative to what it’s trying to convey. Honestly, remake this in film-length and condense the story a bit, and I’ll watch the hell out of it. I’m totally behind the point it makes about love and selfishness and I actually came away from it rather liking the vampire concept, but the length and general poor quality makes most of the series unbearable to watch.

I played a game: RAGE

NOTICE: Hi. What you’re reading is an old review from when I was using a different template. It was kind of ugly, so I switched. If I make a mention of spoilers going to be blacked out, they won’t be. Sorry. It’s just so long ago I wrote this and it’s a bother to go back and edit it extensively. Sorry if you get spoiled, but I’m pretty sure I didn’t put any major spoilers in anything without giving big warnings about it first. Cheers.

RAGE is a bad game

So, chances are you’ve heard of RAGE. The computer-devouring creation of id, creators of DOOM, Quake and other famous franchises. RAGE was hyped to the moon and back. Did it live up to the hype? As the above statement points out, no it really didn’t. Not by a long shot.

What first attracted me to RAGE was that it looked like a vast world with tons of different factions that responded differently to you (like Fallout: New Vegas’ rep system, but actually working well). The post-apocalyptic world looked great and I was expecting a cool story. I was incredibly disappointed.

One of the reasons I decided to write about RAGE just now, is that it was absolutely broken at launch. Not just for me. Thousands of players took to the web in search of ways to fix the game they’d shelled out hard-earned dollars, pounds, etcetera for. id slammed the Graphic card developers for not releasing the correct build and there was probably shit flung the other way as well. It baffled me that how in this age a game was completely unplayable at start. The only thing more retarded is the “internet-oceans” events, where games are released at different times in the world. Digital downloads. Being released at different dates. Because you live in another country. Fuck off.

Any way. Shit was fixed and I got to play it, finally. This was about a year ago. It played the first two hours (the intro clip is fantastically animated and executed, as I got to see like 50 times as I was trying to fix the game crashing right after) and just took a rest. Then I didn’t come back to it. Why? Because it’s not very fun. I don’t have a problem with playing it. I slog along and kill dudes left and right, but after you leave the first town, the game just becomes unbearably slow and formulaic. Maybe it’s with a gleam in their eye, but id created a shitty set-up for doing things. If you’ve played RPGs, then you recognise this:

  1. The player needs an object or needs to go to a location.
  2. The player is directed to an NPC for help.
  3. The NPC has some reason why they can’t help at that very moment, and sends the player on something that’s called a Fetch-quest (This is when you go to pick up an object and bring it to the NPC. It’s usually looked at with anger because they’re usually found in all RPGs and are continuous, in that there are several tiers to them, as in first you pick up 10 rabbits for the chef; then you pick up 25; then you pick up 50; and you get the rest.) leading to them finally being able to help you.

This is the entire fucking game. I shit you not. You go to Person A, who can help you with Predicament B, but first you need Objective C. It’s Mission by numbers, in the worst possible way.

If I could relate RAGE to any other thing in the world, it’d be this: Playing RAGE is like planning and then doing your shopping. It’s incredibly boring, but you do it, so you can go on.

The story is shit. An asteroid hit Earth, and apparently we had Ark Project running, so that we could repopulate later. Well, obviously that went to shit, as you wake up X years later and all the other dudes are either dead in their pods or dead in the huge wasteland that Earth has become. You’re saved by a random dude who brings you to his random town, where you help out. It is so unbelievably stale and formulaic you feel your brain trying to squeeze through your ears. The voice acting saves it from being downright hell. Then you move on to help other places do stuff. Because herp, that’s why. People trust you for being a silent dude with armour who is good with shooting things. Sounds legit. The set-up for RAGE is stupid and id should feel bad.

It doesn’t get better. It just continues the same way.

So, what positives are there to RAGE? Well, it’s pretty. Let’s face it: RAGE is just a tech-demo. id fucked us over real bad and marketed their graphics sandbox as an actual game. I mean, it is a game, but it’s a horribly bland one. It’s even more standard-FPS than fucking Call of Duty. It’s a rail-roaded shooting-gallery pathetic excuse of a game, and I now feel silly for even paying money for it. I’ll try to finish it, but at this point I don’t give a fuck.

Save your money, and skip buying RAGE. If you want a shooter, try Bulletstorm (really fun shooting gallery, play it with a friend) or Spec Ops: The Line (best military shooter of all time).

(I’ve been watching Kurozuka, so I’ll write about that soon)