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My personal blog for covering video games, films, comics, and other media.

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Count_Zero

Shoot-em-ups are one of those genres that I’m okay at. I’m never going to feel confident enough in my skills to play a bullet hell shooter, but I appreciate the design of those games and the skill that goes into them. Thus, a game like Gradius Collection for the PSP is a game that caught my attention.

The title collects 5 Gradius arcade titles, generally going with the arcade versions where available (complete with the arcade BIOS check screens). The collection appears to do a pretty good job of emulating the arcade hardware, including having slowdown where it similarly would have appeared – which I’m not sure is a plus or a minus. Each game also includes the ability to save your game, with your current selection of power-ups, at almost any point from the pause menu, allowing you to pick up from the last passed checkpoint if you have to take a break, or to stick with your power-up selection if you get taken out.

On the one hand, the latter case makes for a good quality of life improvement, but I can’t help but feel that it would be nice if there was a way to skip the save and load part of the process – and just let you restart from that checkpoint with your last saved power-up loadout, possibly losing a life in the process. In a way, that would be defeating the point of emulating the arcade experience, but if you’re including a Save/Load option, then including that form of checkpointing seems reasonable enough.

Each title also includes the option to have an automatic power-up path you can choose from, which will optimize what power-ups you’re using based on what configuration you’ve selected. This lets you focus on evading enemy bullets and taking on targets, and also lets you avoid, for example, the Whammy option included on the power-up path for for Gradius 3.

The Gradius games themselves generally play well, and are well designed, though each of the games have their little quality-of-life issues that cause problems when playing on a portable system. The checkpointing in the boss rush for Gradius 2, for example, works perfectly if you’re playing the game arcade style, as it provides a way to get enough power-ups to get back where you need to be for the boss fights. However, if you’re save-scumming, it can get frustrating, as what you want to do is save after beating each boss so if you have to shut the game down you can pick up right where you left off. Instead, it starts you off back at the beginning of the boss rush. Similarly, Gradius 3 starts with a very claustrophobic level – probably the most claustrophobic first level in the series, which requires some very precise maneuvering, which gets aggravated by some of the slowdown that comes up in that level as well.

This leads to the fundamental issue that you have to keep in mind in this collection. The Gradius games are not what I’d describe as marathon friendly. Blitzing through Gradius, going on to Gradius 2, and then directly into Gradius 3 is a recipe for burnout. With, for example, the SNK and Namco collections, there’s a considerable variety of game types to be found, and even the Mega Man games have enough variety in the level designs to make them feel more conductive for playing back-to-back. The Gradius games, as side-scrolling shoot-em-ups, are just similar enough, that playing them back to back becomes the video game equivalent of eating pepperoni pizza, from the same pizzeria, for a week straight. Yeah, you like pepperoni pizza, and you like the pizza from this pizzeria, but eventually you want some variety – even if you’re staying with pizza you want some extra toppings on it. The Gradius games included in this collection play similarly enough that you don’t get the equivalent of those extra toppings. Just the inclusion of Lifeforce would go a long way toward improving this collection, due to how that title changes up the gameplay with side-scrolling and top-down stages, and with the change in checkpointing. Having that variety would make moving to Gradius 2 or 3 a little better.

Additionally, the collection is rather light on extras. We have a sound test and soundtrack mode for each game, along with the opening cutscenes from the Gradius Deluxe Pack for the Saturn and Playstation, and Gradius III and IV for the Playstation. What we don’t get is concept art, pictures of the arcade cabinets, ad brochures, or manuals for each game. There isn’t even an option to replace the overlay around the screen (when you’re not in fullscreen mode) with something replicating the art around the screen on the arcade cabinets. It feels incredibly bare bones.

As someone who likes the Gradius series, and who remembers Gradius for the NES as the first shooter he ever bought, I want to like this collection – and to be clear there are things to like here. Die-hard Gradius fans will be disappointed by the lack of the kind of extras you really want in a collection like this. Otherwise, it’s a good collection to take a piece at a time, beating one game, playing something else, and then coming back to it later. Just don’t make the same mistake I made and try to marathon through all 5 titles – that’s just a recipe for burnout.


Filed under: Reviews, Video games Tagged: game collections, PSP, shoot-em-ups, Video games 5939 b.gif?host=countzeroor.wordpress.com&blo

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This is a bit of an aside from my read-through of the Expanded Universe. In addition to reading Truce at Bakura, I’ve also been watching Star Wars Rebels. Having just completed season 1, I wanted to give my thoughts.

While Season 1 doesn’t grab a ton from the old EU, it’s interesting to see the concepts they do keep. First off, we have the Imperial Inquisitor, who was introduced in the old West End Games RPG (which is actually cited in one of the Rebels Recon episodes – which made me squee), and the ISB, along with the idea that the Empire has stopped using clones for their Stormtroopers in place of recruits or conscripts.

Also, one of the comparisons I’d seen made for this show is that it’s “the Star Wars RPG campaign that I wish I’d ran.” I agree with this assessment. Being like a RPG campaign is not a bad thing – when you’re in a good RPG campaign the players, and thus by extension their characters, have tremendous chemistry. Everyone is having fun, and when people or characters disagree, disagreements (ultimately) end amiably. People quip, and when quips misfire, they quips end up becoming amusing through how they misfire.

Further, and this is where things become important when it comes to works of fiction, in an RPG campaign, everyone has a real opportunity to be in the limelight. While some characters will come out as party leaders, and will push the action in one direction or another through their behavior or because they have more of a plan than other characters, everyone has a chance in the limelight. For a TV series with an ensemble cast, this is absolutely vital. I’d say this is why Leverage worked so well – many of the writers of the show, John Rogers in particular, played RPGs.

As far as the show itself goes – it’s an all CG animated show, much like Clone Wars was. What didn’t work for me in Clone Wars, and doesn’t quite work for me here is that CG as it’s used in this show feels very stilted. By comparison Fate/Zero had much more fluid and dynamic fight scenes. Now, Fate/Zero is clearly not aimed for children, but just because a show is aimed for a younger audience doesn’t mean you have to cut on quality. On the other hand, Ufotable’s Nasu-Verse shows (where their work truly shines) have either been films or OVAs (Garden of Sinners and the upcoming Heaven’s Feel films), or split-cour shows (Fate/Zero and Unlimited Blade Works). That gives them more time to work on the episodes to maintain a constant level of quality.

Still, while they make the CG work really well for space battles, and providing continuity of look and feel for ship interiors, along with gunfights, this fall apart whenever hand-to-hand combat, and lightsabers in particular come into play. Maybe watching Fate/Zero and UBW in parallel with season 1 is spoiling me, but I can’t help but feel that 2d animation gives the characters in those shows more substance and weight than the characters in Rebels does.

Other than that, I really like Rebels. The writing is sharp and while it works for a young adult audience, it doesn’t feel like it’s dumbing down its material. The cast has tremendous chemistry and they play off each other well. This was definitely a good start to the new Star Wars universe.

Star Wars: Rebels Season 1 is available from Amazon.com on Blu-Ray and DVD.


Filed under: Reviews, Star Wars, Television Tagged: animation, Star Wars, Star Wars New Universe, Television 5896 b.gif?host=countzeroor.wordpress.com&blo

Count_Zero

This time I’m taking a look at the latest installment of the John Wick series.

My Review of Chapter 1 – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v9wLGUsDLRg

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Watch my Live-Streams on http://twitch.tv/countzeroor/


Filed under: film, Reviews, videos Tagged: Film Review, Heroic bloodshed, John Wick, vlog 5886 b.gif?host=countzeroor.wordpress.com&blo

Count_Zero

Most fantasy novels that I’ve read work, generally, in the context of an existing society of our world. Tolkien took his cues from Nordic mythology and the Eddas. C.S. Lewis took a mixture of elements from various Mediterranean cultures and his own Christian views. Japanese period fantasy (as seen in anime, manga, live-action cinema, and books like the Kouga Ninja Scrolls) take cues from stories about youkai and oni, along with legends about the history of the Japanese Imperial family and the deities from which they draw lineage.

So, when reading The Cloud Roads, I was rather surprised to see very few connections to any real existing human cultures. However, the book also managed to execute on this without leaving me completely lost.

Well, I should say I was cheating slightly by specifying “human” cultures. The narrative focuses not on any real human society, as near as I can tell, Humans are Sirs-Not-Appearing-In-This-World. There are humanoid-ish races, but the focus is instead on a race called the Raksura. The Raksura are a race of shape-changers, who, depending on whether they’re an “Aeriat” or an “Arbora”, can change from a more conventionally humanoid form into a winged flying form or form more suited for climbing (though both can climb) respectively.

The main character of the series is a Raksura named Moon. His Raksura colony was wiped out when he was very young, and he ended up going through life with very little knowledge of what he was and if there was more of himself.

Moon begins the book living in a “groundling” village, when his nature is discovered by the village, and he is poisoned, staked out, and left for dead. He is rescued by another Raksura, Stone, who explains what he is, and takes him to another Raksura court, Indigo-Cloud. Because Moon knows fuck and all about Raksura society, he provides our narrative insight.

The risk with a character like Moon is that he could become overly passive as he tries to roll with an unfamiliar culture (as in some “travelogue” works of fantasy and science fiction), or become petulant as he doesn’t fit in or clashes with members of the culture they’re entering. The former case thankfully never happens. In the latter case, Moon is hostile and fights back when clashes occur, but in part that is because the Raksura draw their cultural cues significantly from animal behaviors (and predator dominance behavior in particular) – so rather than coming across as being a jackass, it works in context.

The power dynamics inside the court of Indigo Cloud are interestingly laid out, and makes for an interesting political story, without getting into the literal backstabbing intrigue of some other works. Not that the book lacks for action, tension, or threats. The world has The Fell, another group of shifters, some of which look similar to Raksura. This caused tension for Moon when he lived amongst groundlings when he was discovered to be a shifter, as they would mistake him for a Fell.

The Fell are legitimately terrifying – evoking a horde of monstrosities of various sizes, almost like what Orcs and Goblins are supposed to evoke, but without decades of epic fantasy writers and D&D campaigns (not that there’s anything wrong with those), defanging them by using them as mooks. The Fell are either monstrous, inhuman(oid) and intractable in the case of the Dakti and Kethel (the foot soldiers and heavy hitters of the Fell), or cold, cunning, and sociopathic in the case of Fell Rulers.

I really enjoyed this book, I’m definitely going to move on to the rest of the series.

The Cloud Roads is currently available from Amazon.com.


Filed under: Books, Reviews Tagged: book review, Books of the Raksura, fantasy, Martha Wells 5827 b.gif?host=countzeroor.wordpress.com&blo

Count_Zero

Gen Urobuchi has gotten a tremendous reputation as a writer of animation, particularly through his deconstruction of the magical girl genre with Puella Magi Madoka Magica. In 2011, he did something slightly different, by doing a novel prequel to the hit visual novel Fate/Stay Night, covering the events of the previous Holy Grail War, which set the events of the original game and anime in motion. The show shifted animation studios from Deen, to Ufotable, who had only a handful of shows under their name at that time – though the animators had years of experience from TMS.

While Fate/Stay Night, being an adaptation of a Visual Novel, puts its focus on one or two characters, specifically Shirou Emiya and Rin Tohsaka, Fate/Zero is much more of an ensemble piece. Each of the Masters in the Fourth Holy Grail War are perspective characters, though some have more focus than others.

The main five leads are Waver Velvet, a young student at a magic academy in Britain from a bloodline of no account, who has stolen his teacher’s catalyst for Rider (Iskandar/Alexander The Great) in order to get the respect of his masters and peers; Kirei Kotomine, who has summoned Assassin (The Old Man On The Mountain), to assist his master in winning the war; Kirei’s master, Tokiomi Tohsaka, who has summoned Archer (Gilgamesh); and Kiritsugu Emiya and his wife Irisviel von Einzbern, who have summoned Saber (Arturia Pendragon – the same Saber who will team with Shirou in Fate/Stay Night).

The other notable characters are Kariya Matou, who had left the family, but returns after his sister Aoi, and her husband Tokiomi, send their second daughter, Sakura, to the Matou family, where the leader of the family – Zouken, is indoctrinating her with his worm magic. Zouken himself is an ancient sorcerer who is basically sustained by worms living in his flesh to such a degree that he’s practically a cultist of Kyuss. Kariya receives a magical boost from Zouken through his worms, causing Kariya to become increasingly deranged over the course of the series. Kariya has summoned Berserker (whose true identity is not revealed until very late in the series, so I’ll leave it unspoiled)

While those Masters have their sympathetic elements, here are two Masters who are clearly antagonistic. There is Kayneth El-Melloi Archibald and his wife Sola-Ui, who are from an Old Magic family, but not as old as the Tohsaka, Einzbern, and Matou families, who are all much more deeply involved in the creation of the Grail. We’re introduced to him as Waver’s teacher, mocking him due to his lack of a major bloodline, and he never really does anything more to try and make himself more sympathetic. He’s summoned Lancer (Diarmuid of the Love Spot), who proves himself generally more honorable than his master.

Finally, there is Ryuunosuke Uryuu, who is voiced in the English dub by a very much cast against type Johnny Yong Bosch, who is a serial killer of children who summons Caster – Gilles De Rais. While this duo isn’t at the forefront of the overall story, they do take the forefront as antagonists through the midpoint of the series.

Now, the issue prequels run into is that the audience knows, ultimately, where a story is going. Thus, you need a journey that is particularly compelling to make that story worth telling, through unanswered questions, compelling characters, or both. Fate/Zero manages the latter. The cast is very well written, with each group having plenty of chemistry, and each character’s motivations (except for Uryuu and De Rais, who are written as stock serial killers) making perfect sense.

Additionally, we know from the conclusion of Fate/Stay Night that the information we’ve gotten about the events of the Fourth Grail War are either incomplete (Shirou and Rin’s remembrances), or from questionable sources (Kirei’s explanation). The story told here recontextualizes the information we got from the original game and the Deen anime better. The series ultimately makes me wish that the novel had been written when Deen’s anime was in production, so they could include references to the material in the book, that would make it worth a re-watch after having seen Fate/Zero. Instead, I’m just going to have to look for that material in Ufotable’s own adaptation of the Unlimited Blade Works route.

Speaking of the differences between the two studios – Ufotable’s animation blows Deen clean out of the water. Deen’s night scenes felt like day-for-night shooting. Ufotable paints much deeper shadows, creating much more striking night scenes. The fight scenes are also incredibly fluid, with the fight scenes getting across the strength and power of the protagonists much more than the Deen version did. The facial animations also are much more subtle – Deen tended to go more super-deformed in Fate/Stay Night for any comedic moments. Ufotable stays more realistic, which fits with the more grounded material.

Also, the character writing also feels so much better, and the first season of the series has one of my favorite moments of television. The penultimate episode of the first season features a scene that I’d call the Council Of Kings, where Gilgamesh, Alexander the Great, and Arturia Pendragon, sit down over wine and talk about what it means to be a monarch. You see how each character is defined by where they were at their death – Gilgamesh as triumphant king of the known world, but alone after the death of Enkidu; Alexander as triumphant conqueror, leader of a mighty army; and Arturia, in the wake of the Battle of Camlann, broken, beaten, and alone, questioning the path on which her life has taken her. It is a wonderful piece of writing, and if it didn’t end with Alexander showing off his Noble Phantasm, had I known about it in high school drama class, I totally would asked to adapt it into my classes single-scene assignment.

That said, all is not roses – mainly due to the form in which this show was released, because it was licensed by Aniplex. If you want to buy the show on Blu-Ray, it will cost you $300 for both seasons. If you buy it on DVD, it will cost around $150, and both releases are very bare bones – not commentaries, no interviews with the creators, nothing. The show is available for streaming, even with the dub, pretty much everywhere, but that only will last as long as Aniplex deigns to keep it available.

The show is available on Amazon.com as two seasons (part 1, part 2). There is also a manga adaptation of the novel which is considerably cheaper – part 1 can be found here.


Filed under: Anime, Reviews Tagged: Anime, Gen Urobuchi, Type-Moon 5764 b.gif?host=countzeroor.wordpress.com&blo

Count_Zero

This time we cover the last novels published contemporaneous with the original trilogy.

Opening Credits: Star Wars Theme from Super Star Wars on the SNES.
Closing Credits: Chiptune Cantina Band from Chiptune Inc. – https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCvJtiGFudFlvYMfjiU1NKJg

Please support my Patreon at http://www.patreon.com/countzeroor
Member of The Console Xplosion Network: http://www.theconsolexplosion.com/
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Filed under: Books, Star Wars, videos Tagged: Books, Star Wars, Star Wars Expanded Universe, video, video review 5634 b.gif?host=countzeroor.wordpress.com&blo

Count_Zero

I’ve previously played two Hatsune Miku rhythm games, one on the PS3, and one on the Nintendo 3DS. I generally enjoyed them, though I found the gameplay controls a little rough. In particular, in the 3DS version, bouncing between the two screens was difficult at higher difficulties, and on the PS3 version, the size of the screen ended up working against the game. For my next outing against a Miku game on a Sony platform, with the latest title – Hatsune Miku Project Diva X – I decided to take on the Vita version of the game.

Project Diva X controls and plays almost identically like Project Diva F on on the PS3, with some minor tweaks. Rather than unlocking the songs in order by escalating difficulty, the songs are instead structured by theme – Classic, Cute, Quirky, Cool, and Elegant. Each category has 5 songs, and upon completing the point or “Voltage” goal for each song in a theme, you unlock a Medley of 5 more songs. Completing that beats the “cloud”, allowing the player to move on to the next cloud. After completing the Classic Theme, the other four clouds can be taken on in any order, though once a cloud has been selected, it has to be cleared before you can move on to the next cloud.

Right out of the gate, the smaller screen of the Vita is a much better fit with this game. I was able to play much better on the Vita than I was on a television, as I was able to have the entire screen in the entirety of my field of view, letting me track incoming notes better. I found myself able to clear songs on higher difficulties that would have left me struggling on the TV, and able to handle the D-Pad + Button combinations without any problems.

The performance sequences for each song have been tweaked somewhat from the earlier games. In the previous games, each song had a Music Video that played underneath the notes moving across the screen. In Project Diva X, these are instead staged performances, and you can customize the performer’s outfits and accessories. Selecting accessories that fit with the theme of the song, and in the right combinations will give you a boost to your point multiplier. Costumes also provide special abilities, ranging from increasing the chance of unlocking new outfits and accessories, to giving score and multiplier boosts.

The dating sim portion of the game has also been adjusted to feedback into the musical performances. By building up your friendship meter with each of the 6 vocaloids in the game (Hatsune Miku, Len & Rin Kagamine, Megurine Luka, and KAITO & MEIKO), you also get a boost to your score modifier with those songs that are performed with that character. As part of this, you can play any song with any character. However, the vocal tracks for those songs don’t vary, and there aren’t any tips on who the actual lead vocalists on those songs are, meaning that you can have, unintentionally, KAITO’s vocal track coming out of Hatsune Miku’s mouth.

Unfortunately, the song selection is much smaller than the earlier games, with the track list making up a total of 6 tracks per cloud plus a final medley. That final medley has to be unlocked by basically beating the game twice. The first time through the game’s clouds, you are only able to play on Easy and Normal difficulty. After your initial clear, the “voltage” (points) from each cloud crystallizes, and you are informed that there is an ultimate medley that you can unlock after getting an additional crystal from each cloud. That crystal can be obtained by hitting a point threshold for each cloud, and at this point two harder difficulty levels are unlocked for all the existing songs. In order to meet those thresholds without grinding, you’re going to have to beat the songs at these harder difficulties. While I enjoyed the songs in the game, I didn’t find myself enjoying the game quite enough that I wanted to play through the game twice in a row to get one more song.

By comparison, the Project Diva F games each added an encore set. This set would have more difficult tracks and some Greatest Hits tracks as a reward for beating the main sequence of the game. Instead, the “greatest hits” tracks from earlier games, like “Senbonzakura” and “Piano x Forte x Scandal”, are absent here, at least as complete tracks. A few classics like “The Disappearance of Hatsune Miku” appear in some of the medley tracks, but not in their entirety in their own right.

According to Wikipedia, there are some DLC tracks, but they appear to be exclusive to the home console versions of the game. Additionally, while the game has english subtitles for the lyrics of all of the songs, the “Concert Mode” that would let you just sit back and watch the songs be performed is only available through DLC on the Vita. Presumably the concert mode is on-disk on the PS4 version.

On the one hand, the reduced song selection, lack of DLC tracks, and the fact that the Concert Mode is not present on the cart makes the game harder to recommend. On the other hand, it is fun, and several of the tracks on here (particularly “Raspberry*Monster” and “Even a Kunoichi Needs Love”) are pretty catchy. I’d say that the Vita version makes for a better gameplay experience, while the PS4 version will probably make for a better way to experience the songs, once you’ve unlocked them.

Hatsune Miku Project Diva X is available from Amazon.com.


Filed under: Reviews, Video games Tagged: Anime, Hatsune Miku, music, Video games 5694 b.gif?host=countzeroor.wordpress.com&blo

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2015’s revival of Ushio and Tora by Studio MAPPA is not the first revival of an older anime and manga series in the 21st century. In 2008, JC Staff revived the classic fantasy anime series Slayers, with a fourth season after an almost decade gap. The series was was released as a split-cour show, with the first 12-episode cour being subtitled “Revolution”, and the second “Evolution-R”. When the show originally was announced, the big question that fans had was would this show come back with a Dragon Slave sized blast, or would it fizzle like a wet firework?

The show starts off fairly well – Lina and Gourry are still traveling together, and much as with Slayers Try, they have moved on to hunting pirates after having wiped out much of the world’s population of bandits. However, after Lina and Gourry are framed for the destruction of a nation’s Magic Tanks (on the grounds that the damage was done with a Dragon Slave, and that a Sword of Light was also involved). Lina and Gourry know this wasn’t them – they were out at sea, and also Gourry hasn’t had his Sword of Light since the events of Try.

After fairly quickly getting the Band back together, Lina, Gourry, Amelia, and Zelgadis discover that the person responsible is a person named Pokota, an animated plush stuffed animal with tremendous magical power. Our heroes must hunt down Pokota and find out his game – a plan that will ultimately lead them back to the antagonist of the first half of season 1 – Rezo, the Red Priest.

Probably the biggest point of note when watching this series is that this is the first Slayers anime to be animated on the computer. The animation has the same sort of bright, flat color shading that I’ve noticed among a lot of J.C. Staff’s digicel work. Not all of their shows have this problem, as I don’t remember this being an issue on A Certain Magical Index, for example. However, here it feels jarring.

The show, narratively, is structured similarly to the first two seasons of The Slayers. The first half of the series focuses on our protagonists facing a particular evil plot (Rezo in season 1, the assassination attempts against Phil in season 2). Then, the second half of the season the heroes discover a secondary, or in some cases larger plot that builds off of the earlier threat (Copy Rezo in Season 1, Gavv & Hellmaster Phibrizzo in season 2). In this case it’s the Magic Tanks in Revolution, and Evolution-R builds off of that with Pokota’s backstory and how it connects to Rezo.

That said, the second half of the season (and the tail hand of the first half) feels a little heavy on the fanservice – not in terms of risque material, but in terms of calling back to earlier material. Revolution wraps up with another fight against “a” Zanifar (as opposed to the tail end of Season 1 where there was only one Demon Beast Zanifar – and it couldn’t be destroyed, only imprisoned), with the antagonists having a way to make multiple Zanifars. Evolution-R has the return of Rezo, through his soul being trapped in a jar, and with it another fight against a fragment of Shabranigdo.

The one bit of fanservice that feels like it works is with a semi-appearance of Naga the Serpent – in the form of a suit of armor that has had Naga’s soul implanted in it. Naga ends up amnesiac, but rather than being an obnoxious use of this particular trope, it ends up working. Naga’s amnesia ends up opening up some interesting jokes and character beats, from Lina’s history with the character in the OVAs, to the occasionally mentioned fact that Naga and Amelia are sisters, in spite of the two never meeting face to face prior to this series.

I ended up listening to the dub for this series as well, and Funimation managed to get most of the main cast together, with Crispin Freeman still doing an excellent job as Zelgadis, with his dark, threatening growl counterbalanced by some of the utterly absurd moments that Zel ends up running into. The supporting recurring characters, such as Naga, Sylphiel, and Rezo are re-cast. Well, that’s not entirely accurate – Rezo is semi-recast, as Liam O’Brian, who plays Rezo here, played Rezo in one episode of the dub of Season 1. All in all, the dub is very listenable. The Japanese voice acting track is also great, with all of the cast being back there, including Megumi Hayashibara returning as Lina in one of her first roles in her return, and she steps into the role as if there hadn’t been 10 years between Try and Revolution.

The show does make for a satisfying conclusion to Slayers as an anime series, since I doubt we’ll get a 5th season, and it definitely is worth watching if you watched the first 3 seasons, but the level of call-backs makes it a little less worth picking up if you’re new to the franchise.

Slayers Revolution and Evolution-R are available from Amazon.com in a single boxed set.


Filed under: Anime, Reviews Tagged: Anime, comedy, fantasy, Reviews 5637 b.gif?host=countzeroor.wordpress.com&blo

Count_Zero

I’m continuing my reviews of the books in the Legend of the Galactic Heroes series with the second title, Ambition.

Please support my Patreon at http://www.patreon.com/countzeroor
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Filed under: Books, videos Tagged: book review, Books, Legend of the Galactic Heroes, science fiction 5366 b.gif?host=countzeroor.wordpress.com&blo

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Among the fighting games released last year, one that crept under the radar, but drew the attention of some of those in the fighting game scene was Nitroplus Blasterz: Heroines Infinite Duel. This was the latest of a number of various fighting games based on dating sims and visual novels, starting from Melty Blood in 2002 (based on Tsukihime), and moving on through Fate/Unlimited Codes in 2008 (based on Fate/Stay Night – the anime series of which I’ve previously reviewed). In 2013, we got Aquapazza Dream Match, a fighting game based on the various visual novels created by development studio Aquaplus. Now, while Melty Blood and Fate were based on visual novels with their share of action, Aquaplus’ bibliography (for lack of a better term), was built around less action focused work, such as Comic Party (which I’ve discussed in issue #10 of my Fanzine). So, the question becomes, how well do dating sims adapt to fighting games?

The answer to that question is, “Shockingly well – with some reservations.” The game was developed by Examu, a veteran fighting game developer who had previously worked on the Arcana Heart games, and who has since gone on to do the aforementioned Nitroplus Blasterz. The game is clearly designed with more experienced fighting game players in mind, as the game does incorporate a character type that doesn’t normally show up in more mainstream fighting games – trap characters. These are characters who (basically) lay literal traps in the environment to stun opponents to set up a combo. Opponents either blunder into the traps, setting up a situation where they can get clobbered, or if they spot them, they will have to either jump over the trap (potentially setting themselves up for an anti-air counter), or wait for the trap to fade from the screen (costing time).

What this particularly makes this notable is that one of the mascot characters of the game, Multi from To Heart, a character players might be drawn to through familiarity (either from To Heart or from the character’s repeat appearance in Comic Party), is such a trap character. Her moves are generally easy to pull off, using the same type of inputs used by Ryu and Ken, making her easy to pick up once you realize how she plays, but it does entail learning a completely different playstyle than what you’re familiar with other fighting game characters.

This somewhat encapsulates the game in a nutshell – it’s a little more advanced than your standard Street Fighter or Tekken, but a little less complex than your Guilty Gear or BlazBlue. Consequently, it makes for a good middle ground for someone who finds something like those last two titles a little too intimidating. The game also adds a little complexity by taking a page from some of the later King of Fighter games, by allowing each fighter to have a companion Partner character, who has a selection of assist moves that will allow the player to start or continue combos (working similarly to the Strikers from the King of Fighters series). These characters as well, in addition to having a variety of attack combos, also includes a few trap characters, potentially making for some very strategic play.

The game is not without its issues. I had some issues with some of the controller inputs on my PS3 Dual-shock 3. In particular, one of Multi’s Super Moves uses a HCF (Half Circle Forward) motion, and I could never get the game to recognize it. I did confirm that the pad didn’t have any dead zones that would have prevented it from recognizing the move, as Multi’s regular special uses a QCF (Quarter Circle Forward – the Hadouken motion), and I was able to perform the move facing both left and right, and I didn’t have any issues with doing her other Super (which uses a Shinkuu-Hadouken motion – two QCF in quick succession), facing both ways. So, this appears to be a software issue.

Additionally, the game doesn’t quite take full advantage of the premise. The game’s story mode is done in a sort of combined arcade and visual novel style, with dialog scenes with the characters between fights. The problem is that there are some really interesting potential interactions we don’t get. For example, two of the partner characters you can choose from are from Comic Party, with one in particular being Yuu Inagawa, a doujin artist who does To Heart fan-comics. Others are from To Heart. None of them, in the start of game sequences or in the general story mode, make any special comments related to them being from common games. Multi doesn’t recognize her fellow characters from To Heart and vice versa. Yuu doesn’t comment on the fact that there’s a character from the game she likes in front of her (nor does she assume that Multi is a cosplayer).

Still, I feel the game does a good job of serving as a stepping stone from people who want to move from Street Fighter to something more arcane, like Guilty Gear, and the character designs does make for some enjoyable (though slight) fanservice for fans of the games and and anime series adapted in this title.

Aquapazza is available from Amazon.com.


Filed under: Reviews, Video games Tagged: Anime, Fighting Games, Reviews, Video games 5558 b.gif?host=countzeroor.wordpress.com&blo

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Before we return to Star Wars novels, we have one more comic series to take on, one which goes to the furthest reaches of the Star Wars universe – the Tales of the Jedi.

Writer: Tom Veitch

Art:
(For Ulic Qel-Droma and the Beast Wars of Onderon): Chris Gossett & Mike Barreiro
(For the Saga of Nomi Sunrider): Janine Johnston & Mike Barreiro, and David Roach.

Lettering: Willie Schubert
Colors: Pamela Rambo
Covers: Dave Dorman

Publication dates: October 1st, 1993 – February 1st, 1994

Plot Notes

Four Millennia before the Battle of Yavin, the Jedi stand as the guardians of peace and justice throughout the galaxy. In this framework we receive two stories of inexperienced Jedi.

Ulic Qel-Droma and the Beast Wars of Onderon

Young Ulic Qel-Droma, his brother Cay, and the Twi’lek Tott Doneeta are taught about the history of the planet Onderon by their master, Arca Jeth. Onderon has a sibling world, Dxun, which is inhabited by vicious beasts, and their orbits, every so often, get close enough that some of the beasts are able to travel from Dxun to Onderon. This has forced Onderon’s inhabitants to live in one massive walled city, Iziz, besieged by ravenous, heartless man-eating monsters.

Actually, this is more likely a reference to Harry Harrison’s Deathworld and Anne McCaffrey’s Pern. Considering that Lucas has occasionally said that Tatooine was inspired by Arrakis, drawing from other classic works of SF is fair game.

Jeth has been asked to mediate a conflict between the world’s city dwellers, and the beast-riders who live outside the city. The beast-riders are made up of criminals and dissidents who were exiled from the city. This would normally be a death sentence, but the Beast Riders have learned to tame and ride some of the beasts, allowing their survival. That, combined with trade with smugglers has provided them with the necessities they need to survive, and to fight back against those who sought to kill them.

Jeth decides to send his three apprentices to Onderon to investigate and handle this situation, as a test. On their arrival, they end up caught in the middle of an attack by the beast men. On landing, Ulic and Cay are welcomed, but Tott is arrested on sight, as the city dwellers don’t allow aliens – however, the government relents after Ulic and Cay politely inform them that they are Jedi, they were invited, and if Tott is not released they’ll throw down right now.

The city-dwellers relent, and the Jedi are brought before Queen Amanoa. She informs the Jedi that during the Beast Rider attack they just witnessed, her daughter, Princess Galia, has been kidnapped by the Beast Riders. The Jedi set out to rescue Galia, only to be shot down and brought before the Beast Riders… just in time for the wedding of Galia and Oron, the son and heir of the Beast Rider leader, Modon Kira. However, this isn’t a Ming the Merciless-esque death-ray wedding. Instead, this is a clear case of star-crossed lovers. Further, many years in the past, a Dark Jedi named Freedon Nadd took the throne, and his heirs followed in his footsteps, and followed the dark side of the force. Galia rejected those teachings.

The Jedi return to Iziz with the couple, in the hopes of persuading Amanoa of the truth, since they did call for the Jedi. Instead, Amanoa calls upon ancient Sith force techniques to push them away, and in the course of the fight, Cay loses his arm. As the beast riders launch an attack against the city, Cay quickly throws together an impromptu prosthetic using a disabled droid. Meanwhile, Master Jeth, sensing something is up, has arrived, and uses his Battle Meditation to help the Beast Riders obtain victory. Amanoa flees into the crypt of Freedon Nadd, Jeth follows, and the power of the Light Side emanating from him is enough to cut Amanoa off from the dark side, killing her.

The Saga of Nomi Sunrider

Jedi Knight Andur Sunrider, his wife Nomi, and their infant daughter Vima have set out to see Jedi Master Thon, bringing with them a gift of Adegan crystals, which make for potent lightsabers. On a stopover in a spaceport, the three are mugged, and Andur is killed, though the thieves do not get the crystals, as Nomi kills the thieves in anger with her husband’s lightsaber. With his dying words, Andur asks his wife to continue the journey to Master Thon. Nomi and Vima reach Ambria, the world where Thon resides, and they meet another Jedi, Oss Wilum, riding a large beast somewhat visually similar to a Triceratops. Oss invites them into his home, and talks about taking her to meet Master Thon just as cryptically as Yoda talked to Luke about taking him to meet Yoda.

Meanwhile, Bogga the Hutt, the gangster the muggers were looking for, sends some goons to hunt down Nomi to get those crystals. They show up at Wilum’s house, only to be overcome by Wilum, and Wilum’s mount, who reveals himself as being Master Thon. Thon tells Nomi that she is Force-Sensitive, as is her daughter, and offers to teach her the ways of the force. She agrees. However, over her teachings, she refuses to build or use a lightsaber, after her first experience using the weapon. Instead, Nomi develops the ability of Battle Meditation, and she uses it on several situations to help protect her daughter from the wildlife on Ambria.

During Nomi’s training, and during one of Thon’s attempts to persuade her to build a lightsaber, he explains the lightsaber’s importance to the Jedi’s connection to the force. They aren’t just weapons, they are also spiritual foci, strengthening a Jedi’s connection to the force through the lightsaber crystal. During Nomi’s training, some followers of Freedon Nadd begin an uprising on Onderon, and Tott Doneeta shows up to pick up Oss to come help, leaving Thon, Nomi, and Vima alone. Bogga sends more goons to get the crystals, and ultimately, Nomi decides to pick up a lightsaber to fend them off, not through just direct combat, but with the Force as her guide.

Worldbuilding

  • First mention of the Sith, outside of Darth Vader’s title (which is never actually spoken in the original trilogy)
  • We see the binary star system of Onderon and Dxun.
  • We also see Ambira, a world tainted by the dark side, but which Master Thon is working to free of its influence.
  • Not only do we see our first non-human Jedi, but we also see our first non-humanoid Jedi, in Master Thon.
  • We see some very early versions of Lightsabers here, and a discussion of the purpose of crystals not only as a focus of energy, but of the Force. Adegan crystals are described as being “the best” for making lightsabers, but it’s entirely possible that (if this was to remain canon in the new EU, and there’s really nothing that keeps it out of canon) Kyber crystals could have been discovered later.
  • The introduction of Jedi Battle Meditation. It’s implied that Palpatine used this at the Battle of Endor (and Joruus C’Baoth used it with Thrawn’s forces), but it’s not explicitly named here.

Characterization

Ulic Qel-Droma: Brash, young, idealistic but somewhat naive.

Cay Qel-Droma: More mature than his brother, in spite of being younger. Incredibly mechanically adept.

Tott Doneeta: Twi’Lek, a little more pragmatic – not in terms of solutions, but in terms of viewing the wider scope of problems.

Master Arca Jeth: Proficient in battle meditation, kinda a jerk.

Nomi Sunrider: Mother to infant Vima Sunrider, Jedi Apprentice who developed Battle Meditation very early in her training. Is reluctant to use violence almost to a fault.

Vima Sunrider: Infant. Has the potential to be a powerful Jedi someday. However, for now, I’m assuming she hasn’t been potty trained yet.

Master Thon: A Jedi of a unknown race that resembles a triceratops. Is very similar to Yoda in many respects.

Other Notes

While Tales of the Jedi, could potentially have worked as Dark Horse’s first Star Wars ongoing, particularly with the volume containing two, tenuously connected storylines, the series instead sticks with Dark Horse’s trend of short miniseries comics.

Additionally, Ulic Qel-Droma and Nomi (and Vima) Sunrider were first introduced in the worldbuilding epilogues in Dark Empire I.

Final Thoughts

Props to Tom Veitch for pulling off the Master Yoda reveal when we, as Star Wars fans, have already seen it once before and are looking to see it happen again.

The first installment of Tales of the Jedi (later released with the subtitle “Knights of the Old Republic” which would retroactively become confusing following the release of the video game) is more of a sword & planet series than the space opera that the main Star Wars series would become. The Jedi Knights here feel much more like knights errant (albeit ones with a bit more direction), than the warrior monks of the prequel trilogy, and this take on the Jedi is one that really shaped my view on them up until the prequel films came out.

I think as well, the story of Nomi Sunrider really clinches on why I didn’t like the “No attachments” rule for the Jedi in the prequels – it takes away the narrative opportunities for characters like Nomi Sunrider, who are strengthened by her attachments, to her husband and (as we’ll see in later comics) her daughter. Now, from a retcon logic standpoint, we can reasonably make the case that this rule was instituted later by the Jedi order (the same way the Sith would later adopt the Rule of Two), but there’s a difference between the two. The Rule of Two creates narrative opportunities, through the tension between Master, Apprentice, and Secret Apprentice (sometimes plural – if the Master has another Apprentice on the side). No Attachments takes away narrative potential.

Next time, we go back to the novels with The Truce At Bakura.

 


Filed under: comics, Star Wars Tagged: comics, Dark Horse Comics, Star Wars, Star Wars Expanded Universe 5413 b.gif?host=countzeroor.wordpress.com&blo

Count_Zero

This time we’re covering issue # 47 of Nintendo Power for April of 1993

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Closing Music: “Godspeed” by The Wingless – http://ocremix.org/remix/OCR00996

Games Reviewed:
Starfox – Nintendo
Brawl Brothers – Jaleco
Doomsday Warrior – Renovation
Fatal Fury – Takara
Street Combat – Irem
Ultimate Fighter – Culture Brain
Pocky & Rocky – Natsume
Congo’s Caper – Data East
Super Black Bass – Hot B
Mechwarrior – Data East
Kid Dracula – Konami
Joe & Mac – Data East
Top Rank Tennis – Pax Softnica
Duck Tales 2 – Capcom
Yoshi’s Cookie – Nintendo
Kid Klown – Kemco


Filed under: Video games, videos, Where I Read Tagged: Game Boy, NES, Nintendo Power, SNES, Video games 5369 b.gif?host=countzeroor.wordpress.com&blo

Count_Zero

The 2016 Ghostbusters film ended up being a hurricane of controversy – depending on where you were on the internet, if you liked the film you were a horrible SJW out to shove your political correct values down everyone’s throat. However, once the film came out, the ultimate verdict on the film pretty much ran the gamut – that you either loved it, hated it, or thought it was decent, but not worth seeing in theaters, with perhaps the character of Hoffman being an even more divisive character.

Well, I’ve now seen the film, and my reaction to the film is strongly in the middle. It’s a much more over-the-top film than the original, in part because visual effects technology has progressed so much since the release of the first film, and the release of this film.

This doesn’t work 100% in the film’s favor. The film’s strongest moments tend toward the film’s more subtle moments. For example, instead of the Ghostbusters facing the EPA and Walter Peck, they instead face the mayor’s office seeking to keep the supernatural under-wraps, and these scenes generally work well. It’s still satirizing the government, but instead of the more unfortunate implications of having the obstructive force be the EPA (an agency that has become overly derided over the past few years), instead the film satirizes the idea that it’s more politically expedient to paper over a problem rather than fixing it.

Additionally, a lot of the best bits in the original Ghostbusters were lines that were improv (and in one case, the resolution to the film’s conflict was invented through improv by Harold Ramis). Here, the heavy use of effects throughout all of the film takes away some of that sense of spontaneity. To be clear – I’m not the kind of person who complains about CGI in film. Indeed, I’m the kind of person who will turn off an audio commentary on a movie if the people doing the commentary start ranting about how terrible computer effects or practical effects are. However, the nature of visual effects means that you have to plan the shots that contain those effects out more.

The film’s other divisive choice is having a human antagonist in the film. The character, on the one hand, almost feels like a reaction to the critics of the film’s casting. I doubt that was the case – while the character is a total edgelord who has a lot of the negative traits that some of the haters hold, the sheer volume of the backlash didn’t come to the fore until late enough in the process that I don’t think that the writers would have built off of that. I feel like instead it’s born out of the same mindset that the Nerd Trio from Buffy the Vampire Slayer were based off of – a particular kind of entitled mindset who seeks to play Misery Poker to show how their hardships are totally bigger than everyone elses, no really, they mean it, a mindset that is totally worth mocking.

As far as Hoffman goes, she worked well enough as a character for me, and on the one hand while she fit in with the more overtly wacky tone of the film, her character didn’t work for me because of the excessive wackiness. Cartoonishly wacky characters don’t work for me in live action. In animation, the work itself has become stylistic enough that the exaggerated behavior doesn’t bump me out of the work. With live-action, because it is real people acting on screen, when behavior becomes so much more exaggerated and more of an act, it can bump me out of the film. While this works for me sometimes, and with some genres of films, oddly enough this works for me less with comedy than in more serious fare.

The call-outs to the other Ghostbusters films mostly worked – particularly with Bill Murray as an obnoxious skeptic with a stick up his ass – a concept that is basically Murray playing to type. By comparison, Dan Ackroyd’s cameo was more jarring. Murray’s character was set up well prior to his appearance, while Ackroyd, as a cab driver who is remarkably literate in the technical terminology of Ghostbusting, comes out of nowhere and has little impact on the plot – and I’m a little bummed that

Still, I am glad that I finally got around to seeing the film, and should a sequel come out, I will see it then.


Filed under: film Tagged: film, Film Review, remakes 5371 b.gif?host=countzeroor.wordpress.com&blo

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Adaptations of visual novels to anime are something of a mixed bag. Sometimes, like with Clannad and Comic Party, the adaptation is a hit. Other times, it doesn’t work quite so much. Fate/Stay Night falls into the former case, though there are times where the work stumbles in its execution, primarily on the animation front, though there are some narrative issues.

The series follows Shirou Emiya, an 18-year old high school student, approaching graduation, and planning to join the JSDF in order to fulfill his childhood dream of being a “hero of justice”. As with most rom-com heroes, he has a female childhood friend who is something of a Yamato Nadeshiko archetype – Sakura Matou. He has some slight magic ability that allows him to recognize faults in electronic components and, to a degree, mend them. However, life has other plans in mind for him – as while the setup of the series might imply that this is a harem comedy, the game’s source material is quite the opposite.

Instead, Shirou has been selected to be one of the masters in the Holy Grail War, a tournament held among mages to determine who is worthy to make a wish from the Holy Grail – each Master summoning a servant from through time who fits various classes – Caster (can cast spells on their own), Assassin (sneaky bastards), Archer (Range attacks), Rider (can summon a mount for improved mobility), Lancer (uses a spear), and Saber (uses a sword). Shirou ends up getting drug into this without knowing what he’s getting into, and purely (it seems) by accident summoning the Servant Saber – and in particular the figure of King Arthur, or rather Arturia Pendragon (the real King Arthur being a woman who passed herself off as a man after drawing the sword from the stone).

Shirou forms an alliance with one of his classmates, Rin Tohsaka, who is a more accomplished magus, and another participant in the tournament, who has drawn Archer – whose identity is a unknown even to her. Shirou learns that the incident that left him orphaned as a child (and lead to him being adopted by another magus), was the result of the previous Holy Grail War. In order to prevent a similar incident from happening to others, and in the hopes of using his wish to become a true hero of justice, he and Saber decide to win the Grail War.

The animation for the series is done by Studio DEEN, and this is made during their dark period, after their high points back in the 80s with works like Angel’s Egg, and before their modern redemption with Konosuba and Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu. This leads to some weird animation moments – such as clear moments where dialog scenes are taken off camera, to avoid having to animating mouth movements. Some of the action scenes also feel under-animated – including some of the shows more significant fights – like Archer’s battle with Berserker. It feels like a deliberate attempt to save money on the animation budget so they can go all out in the series finale, which has an incredibly dramatic animation bump – so dramatic that it almost feels like it was animated by a completely different studio.

That said, the show’s music is generally good, with a score composed by Kenji Kawai, who is known for his work on Ghost in the Shell – though the scope of the music feels, once again, limited by budget – as if he envisioned the music to be played by live musicians, only to be informed that all they could afford was a really nice synthesizer, loaded with some really good MIDI voices.

The writing is generally good. The women, particularly Saber, Rin, Taiga, and Ilya are all very interestingly and entertainingly written characters, with some great character moments. In particular, Miki Itou as Taiga livens up every scene she’s in with the work, and you can almost feel her energy liven up the rest of the cast in the scenes she shares with them. That said, some of the writing around the character of Shirou stumbles. He’s overly patronizing of Saber. In particular, early in the series he’s unwilling to acknowledge or recognize her combat skills to a real degree – choosing to fight instead of her even when it’s been demonstrated to him that she is far better with a sword than pretty much everyone. Later in the series he shows a better degree of trust, but it is still frustrating early on in the show.

Later on in the series the show develops a twist that comes more or less out of nowhere, but it introduces one of the show’s better antagonists, so I’ll cut them some slack for that.

As far as whether you should watch the show – Ufotable has spent more time in this universe than Deen has, with prequel Fate/Zero, and the Unlimited Blade Works anime (which adapts another route through the same game). Fate/Zero sets up the rules of the Grail War, much as this does, but Fate/Zero front-loads the exposition with a massive infodump in the first, double-length episode, while this show paces the exposition better – and explains some other concepts that Fate/Zero doesn’t get into (like how the magic system works).


Filed under: Anime Tagged: Anime, anime review, review 5326 b.gif?host=countzeroor.wordpress.com&blo

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