Movie Review: Justice League

JL

(Source: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0974015/ )

“I once thought I could protect the world by myself, but I was wrong. Working together, we saved the planet, and I believe that if we stay together as a team, we could be a force that could truly work for the ideals of peace and justice.”

“What, like a bunch of… super friends?”

“More like a Justice League.”

“You have no idea how corny that sounds.”

 

Oh boy. Justice League. Even before seeing this film, even before it was released, there has been a lot of excitement and dread about this movie. DC has been notably mishandling its properties left and right. Man of Steel, Batman v Superman, and Suicide Squad are the result of desperately scrambling to catch up with Marvel, and we can see the results of trying to cut corners. It shows. But after Wonder Woman, DC gained back a great deal of respect and trust from the fans. Did they deserve it? Did it work? Well, let’s find out.

The cast and acting is a mixed bag. On the upside, Gal Gadot and Jason Momoa just knocked it out of the park. While I’m not as extreme on Ben Affleck’s Batman as most, I still think he did a decent job here, but it’s hard to tell how good of a Batman he is until he gets a decent script, so time will tell with him. I still hate Henry Cavill as Superman. Bless his heart he tries, but he has never looked or sounded like Superman to me. Ray Fisher does an okay job as Cyborg, but… well, we’ll get to the problems with Cyborg. And Ezra Miller… oh shit Ezra Miller as Barry Allen. Do I have some opinions about this guy. Flash was never my favorite hero, but he’s a classic and adds an important dynamic to the team. There are certain times in the Justice League cartoon series where he was able to steal the show, but here is not one of those cases. I don’t know it it’s the casting, the direction, the writing, the interpretation, or some combination of those elements, but Ezra’s Flash is just miserable. He feels like The Flash as played by Sheldon Cooper. He’s rarely funny but always serves to makes scenes uncomfortable and highlight the crappy writing. He, like Cyborg and Aquaman, has a super abridged and shoehorned backstory that isn’t helping him in the slightest, he doesn’t look right, he doesn’t sound right, he doesn’t act right, and he just puts a bad taste in my mouth every time he’s on screen.

The action ranges from those close-up impossible to follow awful action scenes to some pretty good and well choreographed fights, but it’s all ruined by one thing: this movie has the biggest hard-on for slow-mo that I’ve seen in a LONG time, and some of the slow-mo shots are just ridiculous and drag on for far too long. I cannot tell you how boring these scenes can get. I’m practically shouting at the screen “YES, I DO SEE THAT. NOW GET THE HELL ON WITH IT!” It also does those unwatchable super slow-mo close up shots that, again, drag on FAR too long. But when it comes down to it, the action is probably unwatchable more often then it should be due to some truly awful cutting. I swear, I don’t know what it is, but it seems like so many movies nowadays can’t get their cuts right, and the whole genre suffers for it

The villain is awful. Bland, boring, forgetful, and he looks like CGI shit. Really nothing else to say, which is the main problem. The villain needs to be just as engrossing, interesting, and important as the main characters, but here he just feels like a set piece. A generic threat to drive the story and something for the good guys to punch. A lot of other super hero movies tend to struggle with villains, but this is a particularly awful showing.

Speaking of CGI shit, Cyborg just looks awful. It’s very obvious that he isn’t actually there, he’s over designed, and despite all of that, he still just looks boring in general. Just a CGI nightmare. Really, the CGI in general is pretty bad in this movie. I know a lot of people have problems with all the CGI being thrown around in movies nowadays, but I don’t mind it so long as it looks good. In Justice League, it just looks awful across the board, but the places it really needed to shine, Cyborg and the Villain (I seriously don’t even remember his name despite having just seen the movie, but he’s so generic that you can just call him Villain or Bad Guy can get the same effect) seem like that’s where it’s the worst. Maybe it’s just because our attention is drawn there more, but that’s all the more reason why more work needed to be put in there.

The writing. Holy dogshit is that some bad writing. It’s hard to go into detail without many spoilers, but trust me when I say that it’s REALLY bad. There are a few good lines here and there, and it was even capable of getting a chuckle or out of the audience (and I’m glad that this movie is TRYING to be a bit funny. Even though DC wants to go darker, comics at their heart are campy and fun, and it’s good to see some of that; the slightly lighter tone is welcome), but on a whole, the writing just made me cringe throughout. On top of that, there is so much goddamn exposition in this movie. And it is obvious why: They’re introducing three heroes and a villain in this movie, and as a result everything just feels so cramped. All this exposition is boring as hell and just makes me wish they had done this right and done all the main movies first! And once again, DC has gone just so dark and edgy with its writing that it strangled the life and energy out of nearly every character. Like I said, Jason Momoa and Gal Gadot do a good enough job to save their characters, but the same can’t be said for the others, including Flash, where Ezra just tries too hard and comes off as obnoxious. But by far the worst is Cyborg. He’s relegated to grumbling and brooding for 90% of the film; nothing like the cocky, wise-cracking, energetic bro that we would see in the likes of Teen Titans. He resembled nothing of the character I once loved, and instead just became another pawn in DC’s game to try and be taken seriously. Well DC? Did it work? You think I’m taking you more seriously than Guardians of the Galaxy because they made jokes and you’re choking out depressing lines with a gravely voice? Because I’m not.

And I touched on this earlier, but even though they certainly try with the comedy, most of it falls on its face. It’s not entirely the fault of comic relief Ezra Miller, but his bad delivery and acting certainly don’t help. It’s a combination of the acting, tone, and (mostly) the writing that kills any possibility of lightening the mood with comedy most of the time. But like I said, a few jokes do hit their mark all right, and I do appreciate the effort.

The plot is the standard “Bad guy wants evil McGuffins of destruction! We have to stop him!” Nothing too spectacular, but there is a very obvious slap in the face in the form of a Deus Ex Machina in the middle of the film. I won’t say what it is, but you’ll know it when you see it, and you can probably tell me what it is even without seeing the movie. And no, it isn’t even handled very well. And yes, they may as well have just summoned Shenron for show subtle it was if you catch my drift.

The movie doesn’t sound very impressive. This is far from Danny Elfman’s best work, and most of the time it’s either way too in your face (the funniest of which was what was supposed to be a heartfelt, touching scene where it sounded like two or three different songs were trying to fight over the right to tug on your heartstrings) or just left no impact. Frequently the movie is just extremely loud to the extent that it sometimes even drowns out dialogue.

Look, this movie isn’t terrible. I know I’ve been bagging on it for a while now, but it has some good character interactions at times, it can be funny, the action frequently works well, and I could even see some color come back into the characters cheeks at times. There were times were I almost started to have fun and almost started to see the team come together and start to slide into their roles. But almost isn’t good enough, and for every moment they almost got right, there are a dozen that they completely screwed up.

When it comes down to it, compared to how good it could have been, should have been, and honestly needed to be, it’s a dumpster fire. I would be willing to give this movie a 3… I really WANT to give this movie a 3, but in light of everything surrounding it, what has come before, what I think will come after, and how this movie tried to make up for its sins of the past and ultimately just made more mistakes along the way, I just can’t. I mean, it’s especially apparent in this year that has been just filled to the gills with quality superhero flicks: Guardians 2, Spiderman: Homecoming, Thor: Ragnarok, Wonder Woman, Logan… can you honestly say that Justice League holds a candle to any of those films? Of course not. The second you compare it to any of them, it becomes apparent just how pedestrian, cliche, and shallow this movie is. And in light of the damage that has been done, it’s hard to see any of these collaboration films ever working again within this universe, which is especially bad news for what was teased at the end of the credits. Really, this movie’s grave was dug before the script was even written because the foundation its built upon is so poor, and with this adding to what already existed, I don’t see that situation improving at all in the future.

I give Justice League a 2 out of 5.

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Samurai Jack Season 5, Episode 1 Review (And a brief history of the series)

samurai jack

(Source: https://thenextissuepodcast.files.wordpress.com/2016/06/samuraijack.jpg)

(I will try to keep this review as spoiler-free as possible, but I highly suggest you watch the episode for yourself before you read my review! I might dip into some spoilers late in the review! No promises!)

Jack is back, baby. It’s hard to imagine that after 13 long years, this series has finally returned to wrap things up. I’m glad that this is happening more and more, whether it be the return of Young Justice, the Voltron Reboot, or even sequel series’ like the crappy Fuller House thing. It’s always great to know that creators care and are listening to the fans enough to make passions projects like this happen.

For the uninitiated, Samurai Jack follows the story of a nameless samurai warrior who is trained from a young age to do battle with and defeat Aku, the Shapeshifting Master of Evil. This demonic wizard has taken over the world, imprisoned the samurai’s father, and is immune to nearly any weapon. The exception, of course, being the magical sword that the samurai carries. Years later, after his training is completely, he confronts and defeats Aku. Before he can strike the final blow, however, Aku casts a spell and sends the samurai into the distant future. Once there, the samurai discovers that without him or the sword, Aku has ruled over the world for many, many years. After impressing a group of teenagers and earning the nickname “Jack,” the samurai vows to defeat Aku, return to the past, and undo this corrupted future.

Essentially, it was one of those variety, villain of the week shows, but it took great inspiration from Japan animation and used a revolutionary new art style, direction, and story structure that was pretty mature as far as a children’s show goes. Jack was a calm, calculating warrior, but he had a heart, always wanted to do what was right, and was even capable of getting some laughs. It was a groundbreaking show that aired from 2001 until being canceled after Season 4 in 2004. Unfortunately, the series ended without any closure. Jack was still in the past, and Aku was still in power. For such a legendary show, it was a terrible disappointment to see.

And so, the series entered hibernation. There was talk for a long time about a feature length movie to close out the series, but after the mediocre showing of The Powerpuff Girls movie, Cartoonnetwork pulled the plug on it. Creator, writer, and director Genndy Tartakovsky would continue to try to get the movie made for years, but to no avail. Some other projects with Jack would arise, including a very interesting short graphic novel series (which I highly recommend).

Finally, our prayers were answered. Tartakovsky got the go ahead from Cartoonnetwork and last night we finally got episode 1 of Season 5. A 10 episode miniseries that will conclude the legendary story of Jack. And it’s being aired on Adult Swim, which adds a new and interesting direction for the show and will allow it to work with more mature material and darker themes.

Speaking of which, I’ve beaten around the bush for long enough, and now… Season 5, episode 1.

The episode is simply titled “XCII”, which strikes me as odd. That’s the roman numeral for 92, but something doesn’t add up. The final episode of Season 4 was episode 52. As we’re about to talk about, the season picks up 50 years after either the end of Season 4, or after he was sent to the past initially. You might think that the difference in numbers is due to the time skip, but mathematicians among us will note that 92 – 52 = 40. Perhaps this will be addressed at some point?

Anyways, like I said, the episode picks up 50 years after the events of the original series, and Jack has discovered that time no longer has any affect on him, and his appearance is largely unchanged from when we last saw him. He’s still hunted by Aku, though now he dons a set of armor similar to that worn by Feudal samurai and rides on a high-tech motorcycle, wielding as weapons a machine gun, pistol, daggers, and an energy trident. As we later find out, his signature sword was lost at some point.

Like I said, I really don’t want to spoil much, but… god damn does this feel right. The art style is spot on (the only negative point here is that several of the shots of Jack’s motorcycle are clearly CGI, but otherwise it’s exactly what you’d think it was), it’s taken full advantage of its position on Adult Swim (dark hallucinations haunt Jack, and we even get a little bit of real violence. It’s refreshing now that the show doesn’t have to dance around that anymore!), Jack is just as badass as ever, the action is on point, the villain showcased in the episode showed that the series still has comedic chops, and by the end, I was screaming “I NEED THE NEXT EPISODE!” New villains are introduced in this episode, and we’re moving towards a showdown between them and Jack next episode (if you’ve seen the trailers, you have some idea of what’s coming). But above all else, I feel like time has restarted. I felt like a little kid curled up in a blanket watching a new episode of a favorite cartoon. This team should be commended; they started the clock back up without a hitch, and everything’s moving beautifully. It really is strange for a series about trying to go back after being sent forward because we as viewers needed to wait for the distant future of 2017 before we could go back in time to 2004.

Voice acting is just as top notch as ever. There isn’t THAT much dialogue in the episode, but that’s pretty traditional for an episode of this series. It has a lot of quiet moments, though with this being the revival, they of course need a little exposition. Phil LaMarr reprises his role as Jack, and he slipped back into the role nicely, perfectly getting back into his groove. We only hear the muffled voice of Aku briefly in this episode, but as many know, the legendary voice actor Mako Iwamatsu, former voice of Aku, passed away in 2006. However, other roles of his have been replaced well in the past (such as Uncle Iroh from Avatar: The Last Airbender). Greg Baldwin is the actor who usually picks up these roles, and he’s slated to play Aku as well. I can’t tell from what we have in this episode, but I imagine he’ll do a fine job filling those shoes. He does have experience, after all. New characters are well acted, and are animated expertly. There’s just as much stark style and sharp lines as we’re used to, and it all lends itself to the air that it’s trying to recapture. All in all… just a wonderful job.

I’m sorry I didn’t go much in depth with this review, but I’m trying to tip-toe around spoilers as much as possible. Please, if you’re a fan of Jack, you have to watch this. If you weren’t a fan, get caught up because it’s absolutely worth the hype. Grab your sword and get ready to face the demons of the future so that we can finally get back to the past.

I give Samurai Jack Season 5, Episode 1 a 5 out of 5.

Video Game Review: Town of Salem

townofsalem

(Image: http://www.consolealliance.com/town-of-salem/)

So people who know me are probably going to call me a hypocrite for this review, but I hope that they at least hear me out and let me explain myself before grabbing their metaphorical (or perhaps literal, given the subject matter) torches and pitchforks.

In my run of buying games off of Humble recently I decided to pick up Town of Salem and, over the past few days, played it for something like nine hours. I’m honestly more shocked than anyone else, but to understand why, I’ll first have to tell you a little about this game and about my experiences with other versions of it.

You may recall a game that you’ve played at camp, at school, or at some gaming party. The game has a few names, but the most common ones it goes by are Werewolf and Mafia (the rules are basically identical between the two, so don’t worry about the name difference). In these games, a group of people take the role of a town that is set upon by Werewolves/The Mafia and the town has to discover which members are secretly evil, plotting to kill them all. At night, the evil party strikes, taking out a player or two, and in the day, the town votes on lynching someone they suspect of wrongdoing. There can also be alternate roles, such as the Mystic, who can ask the Game Master once per night if a player is evil, or the Doctor, who can protect one player per night. It’s a very social game all about reading other players and winning over other players. And I fucking hate it.

Seriously, as a gamer you have no idea how much this game offends me. I have no idea why this game is so popular and to me, it’s one of the worst ways to spend your gaming time. Why is that? Two major reasons. Firstly, it has a really awful mechanic of board games: Player Elimination. While this mechanic can work in shorter games, in a game like Werewolf that, depending on the size of the game, can last an hour or longer, it completely sucks that you can be killed in the very first night and have to sit on your hands doing nothing and talking to nobody for an hour or longer. It completely destroys one of the best aspects of board gaming: a social experience with friends. The other reason I hate it is that it’s such a damn negative game. The whole game is arguing, and frequently there’s really not much to go on, so you’re just randomly guessing. You can try to read other players or take some info out of how they voted, but when it comes down to it, Werewolf/Mafia is more a game of getting angry for an hour while playing Russian Roulette.

So with that out of the way, I have to say that Town of Salem is brilliant and fixes nearly every problem I have with the game. For starters, with it being an online experience, you don’t need to worry about not having a good poker face, or having a tell or something. You get behind the ultimate mask to play this game, and it’s brilliant. Even playing with friends, it can be very difficult to tell who is who (You pick a unique username at the start of each game, so they can’t tell who you are from that either!), making it much easier to play even with people who know you the best.

The next thing the game does brilliantly is character roles. In the vanilla game, you either had the power to kill people or you didn’t. Suck. While certain roles were added to the tabletop game to help alleviate that problem, but that just made it even more frustrating to be an average joe with no abilities, because other people got cool powers and all you could do was argue. In Salem, EVERYONE has a role, and most, if not all are very useful. There are tons of roles, but I’ll just talk about the ones present in the main game. First is the mafia, which consists of three players: The Godfather, the Mafioso, and the Framer. These three will work together to take the town apart. They can only kill once per night collectively, but the Framer can help throw people off their trail.

The Town has nine members, which consist of many roles including the Jailor (Who can detain one person per night, which allows them to anonymously interrogate them and execute them if you so choose), the Lookout (who can watch one house per night, making note of who visits it), the Vigilante (Who can choose to execute someone of his choice at night, but will kill himself if he accidentally kills another villager), the Mayor (the ONLY class in the game who can officially reveal who he is, forever marking him as a good guy in the process. Once he does that, the Doctor can no longer save him and he becomes a big target for the Mafia… but suddenly his vote counts as triple in lynching votes!), and the Investigator (who can investigate one person per night, and will be given three possible roles for their target that they might be). Not only that, but there are also three other factions sulking around looking for different objectives.

The Jester will win if he’s publicly executed. Also, if he’s executed he’ll randomly kill one player who voted for him to be executed. The Executioner is given one townsfolk as a target at the beginning of the game, and will win if they can get that person publicly executed. And the Serial Killer works as a sort of one-man mafia. He’s immune to a lot of abilities and picks off one person per night, winning once the Mafia and Town is dead. These roles make sure that EVERYONE has something to do, some cool power to execute, and some strategy that they can approach the game with. The game becomes less about looking at little tells, and more about trying to weasel a lie out of someone about their role or their actions.

Now, there was also the problem of Player Elimination, correct? Sadly, that’s still present. However, games of Salem are frequently short (about 15 to, at most, 30 minutes thanks to a rather quick timer that counts down each phase), which means that the death timer is less of a problem. You can leave early without much negative repercussions to start a new game, if you choose to stay you can talk with other dead players and theorize about who was the killer, and several classes allow the dead to be of gameplay use! One such character is the Medium, who can (anonymously) talk to the ghosts at night, potentially getting access to their last action and the name of an evildoer, or even just getting in on the ghosts’ theories. Even once dead, the Medium can do a once-per-game Séance where they can talk to a living player at night. Hell, one character can even revive a player once per game.

One other fantastic feature is the last will. As you play, it’s extremely important to keep notes in your will; a little drop down menu where you can type whatever you want. When you die, whatever you typed will be shown to the players. Notes from a Jailor’s interrogation or an Investigator’s… investigations may prove just what the town needs to fish out the mafia. More than that, the game also offers Death Notes as a creative calling card, cryptic message, or even an important piece of a killer’s strategy. Any character (even the Townspeople with the ability to kill someone!) can craft a note to leave next to their victim. The killer can use this as a strategy (information about who is immune to their attacks, pointing to their supposed next victim, or even naming who they are, be it them telling the truth or not!) or just to make a joke/mock the Townspeople, and it adds a lot of fun and flavor to the game.

Even beyond that, the game adds much more variety with additional game types which will insert new roles into the mix, such as the Arsonist, the Witch, the Vampire, or even the iconic Werewolf, and new members of the town, such as the Amnesiac and The Survivor. Even the Mafia will gain new members! There are even ways for players to change roles mid-game, which makes the game ever evolving.

Oh, and there are lots of little cute cosmetics you can earn (or buy… it does unfortunately have microtransactions), including new character skins, new skins for your house, new skins for the town, new execution animations, new avatars, new pets, and a few other neat additions.

That’s not to say that the game is flawless. Far from it actually. While the Player Elimination problem is somewhat relieved, it isn’t entirely eliminated, and it’s very common for players eliminated night 1 to just leave the game, which frequently leaves the Medium with nothing to do. The graphics are basically Neopets level. Or… like a Facebook browser game. It’s very simplistic, but not in a particularly good way. They’re good enough, I suppose, but nothing great. The music is also lackluster and has no variety whatsoever, and some of the players are… well, they’re kind of dicks. The community is hit or miss, and players will frequently report for misplays, labeling them as “game throws.” Unknown if anything comes of those reports, but it’s somewhat troubling.

Even despite those problems, I had a lot of fun with the game, it’s pretty cheap, and I imagine it’s a lot of fun to play with friends. If you’re a Werewolf/Mafia fan this is a must-own, and even if you’re not it’s worth giving a shot.

I give Town of Salem a 4 out of 5.

Video Game Review: Hunie Pop

hunie-pop

(Source: http://cdn.akamai.steamstatic.com/steam/apps/339800/header.jpg?t=1461512522)

“Oh my god, it’s worse than I thought, isn’t it? Alright, grab your shit, we’re going on a date, right now.” – Kyu

STOP. I see you looking at the comments, all your snarky comments bubbling to the top of your brain. They write themselves at this state. Not only did Jack play a dating sim, not only does he admit it, not only is he about to write a detailed review on it, but the evidence is engraved here on the internet for the rest of time. Have I no shame?

I’m going to follow that by saying something that no one is going to believe: I did not play this game for the nudie pics. Believe me, if I wanted porn I could find more of it for less trouble at the snap of my fingers with one Google search. No, I played Hunie Pop because out of curiosity, I watched a Let’s Player play the first ten minutes or so, and I was blown away by the quality of writing in it. In those first few moments, this game told me that it was funny, witty, and classy. I had to play it just to see what it had to offer.

Hunie Pop is probably the best known dating sim out there at the moment. Perhaps there are some of you out there who don’t know what a dating sim is, so against my better judgement I’ll do my best to do a description of it.

As the name implies, these types of games “simulate” a “date” with a “girl/boy” (best get used to these air quotes because you’ll be seeing them quite a few more times throughout this review). You give her gifts, you talk to her, learn her interests, go on a date with her, and then you find out what type of dating sim you’re playing. Some dating sims are made with the purest intentions of just telling a romantic story and maybe end with a kiss or something to that effect. Then the other 99% of dating sims end in sex and naked pictures of girls. Yeah, most guys just play this stuff for the sexy pics. The most famous one is known as “LovePlus” and is huge in Japan. That one is actually in the first category and doesn’t have any nudity in it; frequented by lonely individuals who want some companionship.

Hunie Pop is absolutely in the latter category, but it’s kind of a middle ground in terms of how raunchy it is (at least, the base steam version is. There’s an uncensored patch if you really want that, but like I said, if your goal was nudie picks there are much cheaper and easier ways to get those). The most you ever see is boobs, though it pushes that card about as far as they can without going to the next level. While there is technically “sex” in the game, you hardly see anything and… uh, well, we’ll get to what it entails in a bit.

Anyways, the story is that you’re a socially awkward nerdy man or woman who is visited by a “Love Fairy” named Kyu. Kyu tells the player that she’s visiting the player to help them meet girls and form a connection and probably have some sex on top of that. She gives you a device that helps store information on girls such as their name, age, birthday, likes… other more private information, ect, and instructs the player on how to go about getting these girls.

So I’ve beat around the bush enough, what is the main gameplay mechanic of Hunie Pop? It can’t JUST be talking to girls, right? Well in any other dating sim that might be the case, but not in Hunie Pop. When you take a girl on a date, you determine if the date is successful by—and you might what to sit down for this one—playing Bejewled. Seriously. Not that Bejewled is a bad game, it just feels completely out of place. Each icon relates to certain stats, such as acting sexy or kind or what have you, other icons give you additional turns to play, and some give you points with which to activate special abilities, and there’s one that also penalizes you if you match it. The puzzle game here is fine; it’s functional at least and deep enough to be able to hold your attention through the eight hours or so that it took me to finish this one, but not one that you’ll think of when you think of great puzzle games or even a good puzzle game. Like I said, it’s just a take on Bejewled, which itself might be a better puzzle game than what we got here.

On these dates, you’ll earn Hunie and Munnie. You spend Hunie on permanent upgrades for the Bejewled game, and you spend Munnie on gifts for your girls. Certain gifts for them will give you special “date gifts” that you can then use in the Bejewled game to make it easier to win. You can also give the girls food and alcoholic drinks, which will also make the Bejewled game easier if they’re not hungry and drunk when you do it. I have no idea what kind of message that’s trying to send and I refuse to look into it any further than that.

This puzzle game also carries over to the… uh… the “sex scenes.” Yeah, after your fifth successful date with each girl, you’ll take them back to your place for the *ahem* “festivities.” At that point the game becomes a very simplified and sped up version of bejeweled in which your companion will disrobe and… make noises until the scene ends. Again, you never see anything more than boobs, and there is not technically sex in the game since all you get are a few photos of each girl and the “sound effects” during the game.

That’s basically it for the gameplay. There is a sort of “endless mode” called Alpha Mode that unlocks once you manage to, er, “clear” every girl in the game (counting the hidden ones), but that’s hardly worth mentioning. It’s just seeing how many games of Bejewled you can win in a row. If you want that, just go buy Bejewled on that app store for $0.99; it’s hardly a selling point here.

Now, I mentioned I was interested for the characters, right? So jumping right in, Kyu is really funny. She’s a no-nonsense mentor who breaks the fourth wall, constantly pokes fun at you and is pretty fun to be around. There are eight girls total to date (along with four secret girls to unlock), and as I met them my hopes continued to soar. In each of their intro scenes you get to know each of them, you have a laugh together, and I honestly felt a small bond with each character there at the beginning. These were interesting characters that I wanted to get to know! On top of that, in their intro scenes they were seen interacting with another girl, be it as a friend, student to teacher, enemies bickering, or what have you. This also gave me hope for story where you’d learn more about the relationships between these girls and watch them develop.

Okay, now notice that I sad “at the beginning.” After those initial scenes when you first meet them, you basically never again get any real story about these girls. You’ll get a few texts from each of them (usually just for them to send you a picture of varying levels of… modesty), there’s a small advance in the story at a few points when you unlock new girls, but these are some of the most stale, non-devlopmental characters I’ve ever seen in a game (I’d call them flat characters but… well, that’s just not true if you catch my drift. Okay, I’ll stop). You can pick up a few hints of backstory with the girls here and there, but nothing major. When you talk to them, you’ll run down learning the list of facts about them (Birthday, age, favorite snack, blah, blah, blah), but it’s never anything substantial, which is what I really wanted. It feels like someone was writing a story here and just kind of… stopped.

While the characters are fun at first, without much variation in their dialogue on the dates, they quickly lose their charm and you start to see the stereotypes in front of you. You have the sporty girl, the nerdy girl, the black girl, the Indian girl, the sexy teacher, the sexy student, the MILF, and the bitch (and the four hidden characters. I suppose those four aren’t technically “stereotypes,” but only because they’re so strange in their own right. Some of them are also damn near impossible to unlock without a guide, requiring weirdly specific actions at weirdly specific places with weirdly specific items). It’s actually almost comical how far they went with these stereotypes; you can probably tell from the above images who is who just based on my descriptions. The teacher (who is Asian) likes… wait for it… Asian gifts. Like rice balls and shit. It’s at this stage that you’ll start to realize that the game is pretty fucking racist. How racist? I mean, it can’t get any worse than that last example, can it? Well one of the sporty girl’s (who is Latino) preferred gifts is, no shit, a fucking sombrero. Go ahead, give a Latino girl a sombrero as a romantic gift and see how it works out for you.

On the upside, the game is very easy on the eyes (no, not for that reason, stop snickering). It’s colorful, vibrant, the characters are well-drawn, the backgrounds are beautiful, and all of the bright, bombastic Bejewled effects manage to capture your attention for long enough. The voice acting is well done (Kyu’s actress in particular did a wonderful job), and the game even manages to have a pretty decent soundtrack. Each track gets a little repetitive (there’s only one track per location and you’re going to be backtracking A LOT), but they’re good enough that they don’t grate like in a game like Recettear.

So that leaves us with a game that’s barely a game, which I can be okay with if the story is great, and a story that starts strong before grinding to a halt in favor of softcore Bejewled pornography. I’ll be honest, I actually played this game back in March and writing a review for it kind of fell off my plate, but I was still able to write a pretty thorough review, only needing to check the wiki a few times for a character’s name or something. That sounds like the game is memorable (but with a theme like it has, I’d be pretty fucking shocked if it WEREN’T memorable), but what it really means is that the game is so shallow, simple, and empty that I could just rattle off the information from whatever sketchy memory I have left of it.

Shallow really is the perfect word for it. The characters are shallow, the plot is shallow, the gameplay is somehow even shallower still, and it all manages to justify it because of boobs. And this is why the sexualization culture is ruining media. “Nah, we don’t need deep, interesting characters, we just have to show cleavage once in a while and the faults with our product will disappear!” Not only is it disrespectful to women, but it’s disrespectful to every consumer who picks it up.

But hey, there is a sequel, right? Maybe the developer learned his lesson and really knuckled down to give us some truly satisfying content in… what’s that? It’s a game where you play as a glorified pimp managing the girls as sex-cam workers? Well, on the bright side, at least the internet has more fap material, because we all know it was hurting for that.

I give Hunie Pop a 2 out of 5.

Anime Review: One Piece

one-piece

(Source: http://orig14.deviantart.net/243b/f/2010/214/8/4/vector_logo___one_piece_by_h2o_fr.png)

“Whether I’m sprayed with alcohol, doused with food, hell even if I’m spit on, most of the time I’ll just laugh it off and forget about it. But if you hurt a friend of mine, you’ll pay for it, regardless of your reasons.” – “Red Haired” Shanks

When people talk about anime, there are certain ones that spring to mind. Some people talk about the “Big 3,” but I think of it more as the Big 5. This basically refers to the most popular of the epic series’. While some anime like Detective Conan and Baki the Grappler are plenty long, these are the five that everyone talks about the most: Dragon Ball, Fairy Tail, Bleach, Naruto, and, what we’ll be discussing today, One Piece.

I always found it strange that these popular Anime got so much negativity; they wouldn’t be so large if they weren’t popular, and I can’t imagine an anime getting so popular without being at least somewhat good. On the other hand, people tend to judge popular things more harshly, either because they think it’s too popular, it isn’t worth the hype, or because it’s too long. However, I believe that anything should be judged on its content, not based off of random word-of-mouth.

I must add a few disclaimers: while I’ll talk a little about the manga, this is primarily about the anime of One Piece. While I did read a great deal of the manga, it has been quite a while since I did so, and I’m not as familiar with it. Secondly, this is over the Funimation English Dub. As I’ve said before I had nothing against the subs, but I just prefer to watch it this way. Lastly, this isn’t a review of the whole series. Obviously One Piece is still running (the most recent episode was 756 and the manga currently has 82 volumes, being nearly 20 years old), and the English Dub currently only covers up to episode 491 (which means it hasn’t even reached the time skip, though it is very, very close). With those asterisks in mind, let’s jump right in to One Piece, the “Romance Dawn.”

For a brief summary, I’ll turn it over to, shockingly, the 4Kids opening.

“There once was a man named Gold Rogers who was King of the Pirates. He had wealth, fame, and power beyond your wildest dreams. Before they hung him from the gallows, these were the final words he said: ‘My fortune is yours for the taking, but you’ll have to find it first. I left everything I own… in One Piece.’ Ever since, pirates from all over the world set sail for the Grand Line searching for One Piece, the treasure that would make their dreams come true.”

(Most people give the 4Kids dub a lot of crap and while I agree it screwed a lot up, I though this intro was really well done. Except for the fact that Roger was not executed by hanging. Cough.)

One Piece, as those of you familiar with anime will know, follows Monkey D. Luffy, a 17 year old boy with a straw hat who sets off to sea in search of the greatest treasure in the world: The One Piece. As mentioned above, the treasure is what was left by from the former King of the Pirates and is the goal for every pirate in what is currently being called the “Golden Era of Piracy.” Luffy is far from a normal boy, however, having eaten a Devil Fruit that turned his body into rubber at the cost of his ability to swim. But One Piece lies at the end of The Grand Line, the most dangerous sea on the planet, and Luffy can’t do it alone. He searches for a worthy ship and crew before he sets sail, and along the way he’ll recruit a bounty hunter, a thief, a liar, a lusty chef, and more to create his ideal crew.

I’ll just jump straight into why I love this anime. The characters make it. Everyone who watches Fairy Tail can tell you that the arcs themselves are hit or miss and frequently cover the same ground, and what you’re really there for are the characters and the writing. That’s pretty much spot on for One Piece as well. Every one of the Straw Hat Pirates is unique and offers something to the crew, not just in their skillset, but their personalities. Certain characters clash, others are super close friends, and all hide secrets in their past. Learning about each character is its own joy, and as they move forward, they’re always evolving. These aren’t the flat characters you’ll see in some shows who just stubbornly stick to one methodology throughout, these are people who grow, learn, and stick by each other, and it breathes fresh life into each new adventure. At the point I’ve watched through, the full main crew has already been assembled, but I won’t spoil who eventually joins the crew… that should be a surprise.

Speaking of spoilers, I should mention that a main problem I have with the anime at least is that it’s constantly spoiling things. Since I read the manga before, none of this was new to me, but I noticed that certain episode titles flat out spoiled certain story elements such as who was going to join the crew, or a plot twist that was coming up. Whoever was naming these episodes needed to learn to be subtle. There was even one of the openings for the show that also spoiled the newest crew member one, which I was also mad about (especially since that one was my favorite!).

But that does transition into the fact that this show has excellent openings, closings, and music. It’s of course mostly J-Pop-ey stuff that a lot of people don’t care for, but I like it. For the first five themes Funimation had its voice actors sing the songs, but eventually they gave up and just used the original Japanese version. I like those versions as well, but I wish Funimation could have kept going with their versions, if only so we could have those alternate versions, and Vic Mignogna does such a wonderful job of singing that I wish I could have heard him do just a few more songs.

Voice acting is on point, and I especially found it fun to spot famous Funimation voice actors in this dub, since it’s so huge that they have to use just about everyone. Zoro is played by the legendary Christopher Sabat, who is also known for playing Piccolo, Vegeta, Kuwabara, and Elfman, Usopp is portrayed by Sonny Strait (which totally sounds like a name that Stan Lee would come up with, now that I think about it), who also played Krillin, and one of my favorites, Chris Rager, who played Arlong in One Piece and is also well known for playing Hercule Satan and Mr. Torgue. All of the actors do a wonderful job as Funimation usually does. It really makes me question the sub purists who always say that the dubs sound terrible. Sure, dubs will sound weird if you’ve watched dozens or hundreds of episodes of different people doing characters, but that just makes them different, not bad.

The animation is colorful and beautiful. The animators clearly knew what they were doing, and they know how to create a fun, pirate adventure. The sea is clear and beautiful, each setting in the world is unique in its own way, the characters are cleverly (and even bizarrely) designed, and the fights are brutal and action-packed.  That being said, I do notice the quality of animation will randomly drop at certain points, which does make some sense. Animating by hand is very time consuming and impossible for a small group to do on its own, so some animation is contracted out to other artists and animators who will do it more quickly, but less efficiently. A really well known example of this took place in one of the early episodes of Dragon Ball Super, where the animation at one point was so bad that just about everyone noticed and there was a huge uproar about it. I’m not too upset about it here, though; it’s pretty high quality for most of the anime.

I made the comparison to Fairy Tail before where Fairy Tail was better because of the characters and the story itself was sort of hit-or-miss, but I honestly think that One Piece is much, much stronger on the story end. Because the setting is constantly changing, it lends each adventure to be fresh, new, and exciting, whereas something like Fairy Tail can stagnate a bit. My personal favorite arc is about 300 episodes in and is the “Water 7/Enies Lobby” arc. It’s really a brilliantly written, genuinely emotional, and action packed arc that really has everything (Let me clarify something quickly though because I’ve had people misinterpret this point: while I love the arc that is 300 episodes in, it does NOT mean that you have to wait 300 episodes for it to get good. One Piece is plenty good right from the start). Certain other arcs like Alabaster can drag a bit (ironic, since the Water 7/Enies Lobby arc is more than double the length of Alabaster), but even at its weakest, One Piece can still bring a smile to my face… usually.

Now, before I discuss this, let me point out that the following point is a problem with just about every single “Epic” anime. Fairy Tail (Geez, you’d almost think I was writing this review about Fairy Tail instead of One Piece…) tends to be the least bad about it, but now we have to talk about filler. Compared to something like Naruto (which ended with 83 STRAIGHT episodes of filler and no that is not an exaggeration) or Bleach (which was comprised of 45% filler, according to animefillerlist.com), One Piece’s 13% doesn’t seem so bad, though that’s still over a hundred episodes of filler total. The filler episodes themselves are hit or miss. The ones that go deeper into each Straw Hat as a character do pretty well, and the ones that are random adventures tend to sputter and die because they have nothing to do with the overall plot or the story of each of the brilliant characters. In fact, that amazing arc that I mentioned liking last paragraph? I liked it a lot better in the manga because in the anime, it stops in the middle of the climax for no, not 5 episodes of filler, but five RECAP episodes in a row, which was a complete slap in the face to me. After that, I just skipped all of the filler episodes happily.

So was One Piece worth the hype? I certainly think so. At the very least I don’t think it deserves the hate that it gets. It’s a fun adventure fills with interesting characters and pulse-pounding action definitely give it a shot if you have a chance, and join everyone on the Grand Line as they search for the legendary One Piece.

And yet, after all of that, I’m left in a conflicting state for my final verdict. I really like One Piece so it gets a positive score for sure, but does it get that 5? Does it push beyond? Yes and no. While yes I would ordinarily give One Piece the 5, with the slap in the face filler and strange changes to the story that make it clunkier (especially when the manga is a literal instruction manual for how to correctly make the anime!), I don’t think I could got the full 5/5. The manga for sure gets that, but…

I give One Piece a 4 out of 5.

Video Game Review from the Vault: Shadow of the Colossus

(Posted to my Facebook page on September 4, 2015)

 

I don’t get to go back and play old games as often as I’d like due to limitations to how many game consoles I have, the availability of the game, and other stuff. Still, I recently got a PS2 with a handful of games and thought I’d check out one of the grand daddies. A game supposed to be one of the best games ever made. A game that I’ve always wanted to play but never had the chance and kind of spoiled for myself by watching a let’s play of it some years ago. A game by legendary development company Team Ico who made… two games. Cough. Anyways, I just played Shadow of the Colossus, and this is what I thought.

First, I would like to make a statement about the expected quality of this game and my opinion. Scoring this thing is going to be very difficult because if I give it a perfect score some people will say “Oh, he’s just saying that because everyone else said it!” and if I give it anything less someone people will say “He doesn’t know what he’s talking about!” or “He’s just trying to be different!” Let me just say this plainly now: I’m judging this game solely on my experience and opinion. I didn’t have any trouble tearing apart a game lots of people liked (Oblivion) and I’m also perfectly willing to admit when a popular thing is worth the hype despite my prior disposition (Skyrim). With that being said, let’s begin.

The game doesn’t actually give us a lot to work with in terms of story. There’s very little dialogue (Other than in the cutscenes at the very beginning, a short one in the middle, and a few at the very end of the game, you only get a little dialogue from one character), which is an interesting choice for such an artistic game but helps add to the mystery. However, thanks to Google, I have managed to fill in a few blanks. You play as Wander, a warrior from the land of (ERROR NAME NOT FOUND). He has traveled with his horse Agro and the body of a young girl (Whose name Google informed me was Mono) to a forbidden land in hopes of finding a way to revive Mono. Mono it seems was sacrificed because she was destined to live a cursed life and that’s actually all we know about her. Seriously, we don’t know if she’s Wander’s sister, friend, lover… backgammon partner, nothing. Anyways, Wander reaches a temple at the center of the Forbidden Land and encounters the voice of a god named Dormin who has the ability to revive the dead. After learning that Wander carries a special magic sword, Dormin agrees to revive Mono provided that Wander destroys sixteen colossi that are roaming the land. Wander agrees and, until the last cutscene, that’s about it. The story does a decent job of giving the player motivation to hunt down the colossus and goes with a “Less telling, more showing” idea of storytelling that Team Ico is famous for, and it fits well here. More dialogue would have just weighed everything down and overcomplicated things, so the game knows what to keep and what to toss. The ending is interesting and thought provoking because it doesn’t try to really jump the shark. There’s something of a plot twist for sure, but it’s still completely reasonable. It doesn’t spell everything out for you but also doesn’t leave you completely in the dark, which is an important balance that seems to be lost in many stories now a day. It’s simple, has depth, and most importantly, it doesn’t get in the way of the gameplay.

The gameplay is… well, it’s not terribly uncommon now that a game is entirely focused on boss fights, but that’s because those games are trying to copy Shadow of the Colossus. In the Forbidden Land, there are no common enemies. No spoopy skeletons, no bandits looking to carve you up, no cave bats, nothing. There’re just sixteen colossi and a few animals farting around doing nothing. So, what exactly do you do other than fight colossi? You travel to the fights! No, seriously, those are pretty much the two things you do in the game. You go to a colossus, kill it, go to the next one, kill it, rinse, repeat, ect. So now you think “So… that’s ALL you do?” And… yeah, that’s it. There’s a side-activity where you hunt White-Tailed Lizards to increase your grip gauge, but that’s all. In that respect, the game seems rather bare bones, and it kind of is. It took me about eight hours to complete the game (I had a fair amount of prior knowledge about the colossi going in, but I still got stuck for a while on the last two, so I’d guess that’s about average, but I have no trouble believing that someone could blaze through this game in five hours or less), and other than the story, there are time trials, New Game+, and Hard Modes to tackle with a handful of items to unlock, but exploration and colossi battles are really all this game has. So why is this game so well regarded then? Because it does those two things so well that it doesn’t matter that it’s all it has.
While the world seems empty and uninteresting at a glance, the sheer scale and variety that this world has to offer is what makes it so interesting. Riding to a colossus battle doesn’t feel tedious, but instead instills general tension and giddiness as you imagine what type of colossus you might be fighting next through the journey. It doesn’t take so long to find the battle that it becomes generally irritating, and that’s thanks in part to a rather genius way to find the next colossus. Rather than simply marking it on your map, your sword will guide you to it. Lifting your sword above your head while in the sunlight will focus the light and point towards your next destination. The world is designed very well and finding these battles often isn’t too difficult, thankfully. As I also said, there’s a great variety in this world. Scorched plains, deserts, abandoned cities, lakes, caves, and even battles in the sky. While large parts of the world don’t have a lot in them, it adds to certain eeriness that this “Forbidden Land” should have. Exploring this land is somehow more exciting and tense than, say, Oblivion, which has monsters hiding under every rock because Shadow of the Colossus knows exactly how to pace itself.

And then… the Colossi. Team Ico really outdid themselves with these creations. 16 behemoths and most of them look amazing, unique, and are really fun to fight. You’ll use your sword’s light to identify weak points before climbing all over their bodies to stab their weak points. Some of these fights will play out like puzzles where you’ll need to find how exactly to expose of make it to the monster’s weak points, others will be more action based, and some will require you to use the environment to your advantage. The variety here is really staggering; from the expected man-shaped creates (Like the one on the cover) to a bunch that I just don’t want to spoil. They’re interesting, exciting, and unlike anything that I’ve ever played. There are certainly a few head-scratching puzzles and a few frustrating bits, but they’re few and far between. Most of the time it’s very reasonable and satisfying to figure it out and slay the beast. My only real complaint with the colossi rests with two of them: the two little ones. When you hear the word “colossus” you expect giant monsters that make you feel like a mouse. Most of these monsters fall into that category, but two of them are about the size of an SUV, which is pretty disappointing. One of the fights is really fun and interesting but the other is a really weak fight. Not to mention that these small and quick colossi smack Wander around a ton, and Wander has this stupid habit of staying down for a solid five seconds after a hit, which just adds to the frustration. This is really just a small complaint though, the fights are the main attraction and they do a damn good job of holding the weight of this game.

The graphics are utterly gorgeous for the PS2. Agro looks and moves like a horse, Wander’s cloak flutters in the wind, the landscape seems dead—but only because the designers wanted it to look like that. You really get the feeling that long ago this land was something great, but something terrible just sucked all of the life out of it. The colossi… oh man, imaginative and how wonderful to fight if only to look at them up close. They look so great… almost too great, actually. These colossi are very intensive on the game and during some fights I found that the framerate would start to chug a bit. It never got to the point where it got unplayable (Though in the final fight a few tricky jumps became more problematic than they needed to be), but certainly noticeable. Actually, this problem might not be a problem if Sony would pull their heads out of their asses and make a digital re-release of this for the PS4. There’s a Shadow of the Colossus/Ico bundle on the PS3, but no PS4 release for some reason, and since, of course, you can’t play PS3 games on the PS4, I’m a little screwed in that regard. Still, like I said, it never got unplayable, just a tad bit annoying.

The sound design… I mean hell, I was a fan of this game’s soundtrack before I even played it. Some of the most beautiful tracks ever composed for a game are here. The game knows when to make you feel awe, when to be excited, and when to just drink in the atmosphere and the soundtrack is one of the main reasons that the environment works so well.

The controls are fairly simple and work pretty well with only a few minor complaints. The camera can be a bit of a pain in the ass to get to work properly while you’re scaling a colossus and sometimes can get you turned around and waste grip, which can be an utter death sentence at the wrong time. An option to zoom the camera out a little bit would have been appreciated for sure. The camera also doesn’t seem like it knows what the hell to do when you’re riding Agro and takes a low angle which is great for admiring the scenery, but not so great for seeing where you’re going. If Agro didn’t automatically stop short of cliffs, I would have had quite a few more deaths underneath my belt. There’s also a little confusion with some of the attacks. With a bow and arrow, you hold the button down to draw the bow and release the button to shoot, but with your sword you press it once to begin winding up your strike and press it again to stab. It’s not unintuitive; it’s just that it seems to contradict itself at times, which is confusing and slightly annoying.

So, where does that leave us? Well, I went into this with a strange perspective. I had seen a Lets Play of this some years ago so I had some expectations there, but mainly I was something like “Okay Best Game EVAR, let’s see what you’ve got!” And show me it did. This is one of the most unique gaming experiences I’ve ever had. The lonely yet calming atmosphere, the beautiful music direction, the simple story, the amazing battles, the creative Colossi, this has earned its classic medal in spades. My few complaints are really nothing more than nit-picks. This really is an incredible game worth of a play from just about everyone.

I give Shadow of the Colossus a 5 out of 5.

Movie Review from the Vault: Dragon Ball Z: Resurrection ‘F’

(Posted to my Facebook page on August 11, 2015)

The last few years have been huge for classic anime franchise Dragon Ball. Battle of Gods was the first movie for the series in 17 years, and Dragon Ball Super airing nearly two decades after the end of Dragon Ball Z. To add to that, we have the brand new film recently released here in America: Dragon Ball Z: Resurrection ‘F’

Taking place after the events of Battle of Gods, Resurrection ‘F’ shows that since Trunks killed Freeza and King Cold, their empire has been falling to pieces. With no choice left, their current leader Sorbet decides to revive Freeza using the Dragon Balls. However, they have been unsuccessful in locating New Namek and the Namekians, and instead travel to Earth to use their Dragon Balls. With the help of Emperor Pilaf, they soon do just that. The revived Freeza, learning of Goku’s immense jump in power, decides to do some drastic training so he can enact his revenge.

As a sequel to Battle of Gods, this movie really hits home. It brings some really fantastic humor and references while still containing the pulse-pounding action that made Dragon Ball famous in the first place. Many of your favorite characters return, but unfortunately even more do not. Majin Buu, Hercule, Chiaotzu, Yamcha, Goten, Trunks, Chi Chi, Dende… all of these characters and more are never seen once in the whole movie. I understand that trying to crowbar them all in could make the movie seem crowded and not give the main characters enough time, but I was especially interested in seeing Buu and Freeza fight, especially after Bulma makes one particular comment about Gohan and Buu holding Freeza off until Goku could arrive. However, Whis and Beerus return and are just as funny as they were in Battle of Gods, and even a “new” character from one of Toriyama’s recent mini-series’ named Jaco makes an appearance and manages to fit in quite nicely with the rest of the Z-Fighters.

The animation is just as amazing as it always is; colorful yet stark, energetic and yet able to be calm when it needs to be. My only real complaint is that I can absolutely tell that some parts of the fight used CGI rather than the traditional hand-drawn animation which was distracting and a little disappointing.

Some scenes also seemed to be lacking some level of ambiance and music… some of the fights just seemed to carry on nearly in silence (Apart from the explosions) and some of the traditional heavy DBZ fighting music could really have helped here. Not to say that the whole movie is like that… there are some really well done songs that can really add to fights when they’re there, including this metal song that I’ve included.

Despite the music and certain parts of the animation lacking here and there, the fights themselves are just as incredible as ever. Each blow has an impact that seems to rattle the whole theatre and the energy attacks are just as epic as I remember them. Just with the show, Resurrection ‘F’ remembers just how to build tension with quiet and slow moments just as much as its more action-packed moments. Some people think that’s what makes Dragon Ball bad, how slow it can be at times, but that’s exactly what can make it so exciting. Like a good samurai film, the moments before the fight or even during with a power-up or beam struggle, just the act of witnessing these calms in the storm give a weight to ever single moment that keeps you on the edge of your seat. (And for the record, yes, Super Saiyan God Super Saiyan is a really stupid name. As is Golden Freeza. Still cool though)

Even if you aren’t exactly a Dragon Ball fan but like Anime in general, this is a movie worth checking out. It’s a blast from beginning to end with enough laughs for just about anyone. Grab some Senzu Beans for the experience because this movie’s intense enough to wear you out.

I give Dragon Ball Z: Resurrection ‘F’ a 4 out of 5.