Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Kingdom Hearts 358-2 Days Impression

Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days for the Nintendo DS is the latest chapter in the long running Kingdom Hearts franchise. The series that meshes original Square Enix characters, long established characters and the Disney universe may seem like an odd mix but it works so well. In the beginning of Kingdom Hearts II gamers took on the role of Roxas, a member of the mysterious Organization XIII. This latest chapter fills in the gaps of Roxas stories as it takes gamers on a journey through the roughly first year of Roxas time with Organization XIII. So how does a game, born on the PS2 with a chapter on the Game Boy stack up in all the important categories? Let’s take a look since fans are already getting ready for the PSP’s Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep.

Gameplay – It’s an action-RPG, meaning gamers run around slashing with their keyblade, shooting off magic attacks while gaining experience and leveling up both health and magic abilities to name just two of many areas. There is an interesting and new slotting system for weapons, new to the franchise that is. This is another level of RPG management needed and works quite well as the proper combinations are needed to beat certain enemies and hacking/slashing is no way to finish this game. There is the main story but also a series of side missions to undertake, well worth it for the experience, another very RPG element. If gamers have friends then the multiplayer will really shine as the KH lock-on, weapon and magic system is really fun with more than one player.

Graphics – Looking not too far off from the PS2 entries, not bad for the DS. The animated scenes are beautiful and even in-game cut scenes look good using the game engine graphics. The DS may not be a graphical powerhouse but it can do cartoon, anime style very well and KH is evidence of that.

Sound – From the opening theme everything feels so familiar with is an excellent thing as fans will recognize the beautiful songs and themes, even if they are recycled. Like much of the game it’s sound and music is well done but it’s been done. Not a ton of voice work either but that’s to be expected on the smaller DS cart, which is a shame, the franchise really shines with its excellent voice work. For a DS title this is one of the best soundtracks out there.

Design – One of the problems with a franchise like Kingdom Hearts is 1) all the Disney characters design is already set, 2) the main characters in Organization XIII are already set and 3) the environments are 90% set. There are a few areas that are new, exclusive to Roxas story but most of the game is filled with settings and levels gamers have visited at least three times already. This being said it’s still so much fun to play through these settings as they feel like visiting an old friend.

Miscellaneous – Gotta be the story folks. Kingdom Hearts weaves the same magic as Disney’s best movies. The story and characters capture an audience, spin them into a web of loss, love and betrayal and finish them off with addictive music that pulls at the heart strings and will stick with gamers for years to come. Yes, Kingdom Hearts is that magical and the telling of Roxas story fits in like that cousin who seems like a brother. The recap of Kingdom Heart I, II and Chain of Memories brings noobs up to speed nicely and while the tutorial can be annoying it does not detract form getting into the background of Organization XIII, Roxas and the 14th member.

Overall, all there is to say is what took so long? The first two games hit the PS2 with Chain of Memories, originally on GBA, also hitting the system. This is the first true next-gen era title and yes it’s on a handheld but don’t complain. All the elements that made this franchise rock are present and at the end of this game gamers will want more, a next-gen release in the franchise. Birth By Sleep should be solid but in the meantime how about a PS3 Kingdom Hearts treatment as God of War received? That would be sweet!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Pluto: Urasawa x Tezuka vol. 1 Impression

Pluto Manga volume 1
Poor Mont Blanc; a hero he was now just the victim of … well that’s the fun in reading volume 1 of Pluto: Urasawa x Tezuka from Viz. This story feels old-school in its art but its story is original and surpasses so many of it’s counterparts it’s a great read for the ‘educated’ manga fan. Don’t believe me, guess you ain’t being educated.

Nobody believed the news but it’s indeed true. Mont Blanc is dead. The robotic hero is said to have died in a freak accident but in truth he was murdered, but who could take out one of the most powerful beings on the planet? Enter detective Gesicht as he investigates not only Mont Blanc but also the death of Bernard Lanke, a human seemingly killed by a robot, something that is near impossible. As Gesicht gets further into his investigation his life is also put at risk and the mystery deepens. If a robot killer at work, a killer robot or a modified human? Seems Mont Blanc is one of seven very special robots and each is being hunted and destroyed for unknown reasons including a former war robot serving as a butler in the north. The clues are few and cryptic including what seems to be horns placed on the deceased robots and it’s up to Gesicht to figure out what is going on.

The story and art laid out by the creative team of Naoki Urasawa and Osamu Tezuka is just a pleasure to read. There is something so simple, sublime and nostalgic about the art in Pluto. It reminds of a time before cookie cutter anime and manga characters when the genre was still in its infancy. The character designs seem fit more for black and white than full color and it works so well. The stories tone and pacing is deep as this society is not all ponies and candy. It can be dirty, grimy and plain bad from the death of a robot cop to the sad tale of a war robot turned butler to a distraught composer. It’s also brutal, a fact that should not be list in it being robots that are killed. The best part, the mystery. Who is doing this, whipping out only the most advanced robots and seemingly doing it with easy and secrecy? It’s been a while since a story hits on so many right notes but that’s exactly what Pluto does and I for one cannot wait to see how this story plays out.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Bleach the Movie 2: The DiamondDust Rebellion Impression

Bleach: The Movie 2
The DiamondDust Rebellion, the second Bleach movie from Viz does something very rare in the realm of anime movies, especially ones based on long running series. It shows that there is depth, great depth to the larger cast of characters, in this case Squad Ten Captain Toshiro Hitsugaya. As great a character as Ichigo is when the second movie in your series makes you more a bit player it says a lot about the world you inhabit. Props to Tite Kubo on this one; Why? Let’s take a look at the story, minimal spoilers to count the ways.

The Ouin, a Royal Family treasure, is stolen as it’s transported from one secret location to another. Of the various Soul Reapers guarding the transport it’s Squad Ten Captain Toshiro Hitsugaya who is first to respond to these strange attackers. As he’s wounded by this new foe Hitsugaya makes the decision to abandon his post and pursue the new foe for reasons only he knows. As the dust settles the executive order is given to capture Hitsugaya at any cost, even Squad Ten is confined to quarters in his absence. The wounded captain finds his way into Karakura Town and is discovered and cared for by Ichigo only to flee Ichigo at zanpakuto point. As Ichigo pursues he’s attacked by two female foes, one of fire power the other electric and is promptly knocked out. Hitsugaya has some ghost, one in particular, from his past, before he was a captain, and as he works to deal with this ghost he is branded a traitor, is hunted by his allies with the order to execute him while trying to correct a mistake that’s haunted him for years. As this ghost, the long since dead Sojiro Kusaka, unleashes the power of the Ouin it will take the full power of the Soul Society, all Thirteen Court Guards and one very Hollowfied Ichigo to give Hitsugaya his opportunity, one years in the making and tied to his zanpakuto Hyorinmaru. The sins of the past can be corrected it seems.

Wow, quite a summary and it is not as full of spoilers as you’d think. The animation is great, top notch which is quite the norm for movies based on long running anime series. It looks great on an HD screen with fantastic sound and voice acting that is excellent in both English and Japanese, quite a feat. The story is fantastic, yes fantastic and it has almost nothing to do with Ichigo and his cast of earth bound buddies. Ichigo himself is more support to Hitsugaya and while his attacks are quite badass, further ahead of the anime on DVD right now, it’s the youngest captain who takes center stage. The first Bleach movie felt empty with new characters and action that felt forced. While watching this movie, one that’s focus is on a secondary character in the anime, viewers can feel the weight, the burden which Toshiro bears. His past, the choices made by the council seem evil and the confrontation at the end feels just right as its friend vs. friend in a fight that needs to happen. Seeing every other member of the Soul Society in action is a pleasure also, it’s just a really well done movie that hits on all the right marks from story to action, drama to character development, and there’s no Kon (as he points out in the book with the movie).

Listen, if you are a Bleach fan this movie rocks and you must, MUST see it. For the casual anime fan the story is easy to follow and is enjoyable even without the background on characters and attacks. In the end it’s a tale of friends from long ago set on a path neither expected and it’s all a treat for us to watch.

Naruto Shippuden: Clash of Ninja Revolution III Impression

Naruto Shippuden: Clash of Ninja Revolution III on Wii
Wii owning Naruto fans rejoice! The latest title for Wii, Naruto Shippuden: Clash of Ninja Revolution III is on store shelves and it offers up some solid fighting game action. Dating back to the GameCube, the Clash of Ninja titles on Nintendo’s properties have always looked great on the hardware and as the Naruto story matures and progress so does the gameplay. What can gamers expect from the latest offering, lets take a look …

– It’s a fighting game that can be controlled with any Wii control configuration, so no real need for motion controls, unless gamers want to do hand-sign attacks, which require the remote but don’t limit gameplay if other options are picked. The story mode takes gamers into the first story arc of Shippuden with the retrieval of Gaara, vs. mode is just that, 1:1 battles while other modes have gamers trying to survive foe after foe or doing Time Attack. Pretty standard with one exception; the addition of Wi-Fi battles. The Wii does an adequate job Wi-Fi gameplay and while Naruto does have some lag it’s an overall fun experience with up to 4-players.

– Outside of a first party Nintendo title CoNR3 is really one of the better looking third party titles on the Wii. This could be due to the long running roots of the franchise on Nintendo’s hardware, refining the look and feel. The settings look really good and there is only some, a little bit, of that last gen feel to the graphics but overall it does feel like gamers are playing the anime. The best Naruto on the Wii by far.

– Like the previous entries the background music is pulled from or inspired by the anime and does a nice job of matching the action. The voice work, limited, is spot on as the series voice cast lends their talents as with most Naruto titles on any system.

– As with prior Clash titles this offering pulls levels and design right from the anime and manga and adds a little flavor from multi-leveled levels to that familiar character or building in the background. Since it’s a fighting game there is no need for the larger levels and design seen in other Naruto titles. CoNR3 also has all the prerequisite updated looks for characters, over 35, closer to 40 total, but there is not much to do with a title based on such a popular license whose look and feel is set.

– It’s Naruto … not too much more to add here. This latest title is more of the same from the previous offerings with updated levels, characters and of course new Wi-Fi, but otherwise there is no miscellaneous to mention.

Overall, Clash of Ninja Revolution III is the only Naruto franchise on the Wii but it’s no slacker. The fighting action is solid and the graphics great for the system. Dragon Ball Z left a lasting mark on the last generation of systems for its excellent fighting game mechanics and the Clash series of Naruto games on Wii are quickly doing the same now. For gamers looking for a good fighting game this is a rock solid purchase and/or rental and for Naruto fans, this is all you get on the Wii and thankfully it’s a good gaming adventure … even if you know the story already.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Dragonaut: The Resonance DVD Set 1 Impression

Dragonaut volume 1 DVD Set
The promo’s for Dragonaut: The Resonance from FUNimation hint at hooking up to save the world. While this is a cute tagline this series is much deeper than just a hookup anime. The title is also a bit off for me as the term Dragonaut refers to a dragon astronaut (?), which while sounding cool only hints at what is really going on with this series. Let’s get a bit nittier and grittier shall we.

On his first shuttle trip into space, his dad’s the shuttle pilot, his sister and mother by his side, Jin is ecstatic as he’s about to fulfill a childhood dream. As the shuttle increases in altitude it’s struck by something entering the Earth’s atmosphere destroying the shuttle and altering Jin’s life forever. The sole survivor of the incident, Jin moves through life disconnected, until he meets a mysterious (they always are) young girl named Toa. Jin is quickly wrapped into a world where dragons join with humans to protect the planet from a threat lurking just around Pluto, a planet that poses a real threat to earth. Toa is not the only dragon on Earth. The accident which took Jin’s family was a dragon, one from space, coming to earth and since there have been dragons created on earth to help protect the planet. These dragons take on human form and must resonate, join, with a human partner. Together the dragon/human team is quite a fighting pair. The dragons look almost mechanical in their original forms and their partners pilot them as they would a ship, but on a much more intimate scale. As Jin is first hunted then recruited he learns about these connections, forms one with Toa and another dragon Gio who refused his resonance with his ‘assigned’ partner. With the earths fate in the balance Jin has only one thing on his mind, finding and staying with Toa no matter her past or origin.

The explanation above is kinda long, longer than the box description and it’s not even a third of what Dragonaut is about. Yes Jin is central, as is Toa and Gio, but the story is larger then these two. The threat to earth is real and even those forces set to protect earth are at odds with each other, think of them as military contractors, all out for the same duckets. The relationships between dragons and human take center stage from the main trio to the team of Dragonauts and to the original, space born dragons, whose origins are a mystery in this volume. The animation and art style is excellent, just as in Witchblade, with plenty of busty babes (where do these companies exist with such sleek and sexy female workers???). While that bust is front and center it’s not forced in every character as seen with Toa. While the tagline about hooking up and the busty comparisons to Witchblade abound this is not what Dragonaut is about.

The action, design and animation are great and the story evolves quite splendidly. Giant asteroid that threatens earth, mysterious space born dragons, earth created dragons and the best part, the transformation sequences. Yes, each dragon and human go through a very Voltron, Power Rangers type of combining as the dragons transform and their human pilots do some elaborate sequence to board them, it’s so campy but works so well. The only thing missing is all the dragons to combine and form blazing sword … but the lions have the covered. There is a lot of story to be discovered as this is the first collection but enough unravels in this first volume and at a steady pace to keep the viewer tied to the screen.

It’s unique, it’s well told, it’s well designed and it’s just a great anime. While not for kiddies it’s by far not just for those looking for a good hookup either.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Naruto Shippuden Legends: Akatsuki Rising Impression

Naruto Shippuden: Akatsuki Rising on PSP
Naruto is hot, no denying that and as the anime shifts into the proper storyline, the Shippuden storyline as seen in the manga the video games have followed along with the first main story arc. Naruto Shippuden Legends: Akatsuki Rising has been out for a few weeks now and it’s the first Shippuden title to appear on the PSP. As mentioned if follows the first story arc, that of the recovery of Gaara from the Akatsuki right as Naruto returns from 2-1/2 years of training. While Naruto has grown how as the Legends line of games grown on the PSP, lets take a look.

Gameplay – Most of the Naruto Sony based titles have either been full fighting game or a mesh of fighting/adventure gaming and it’s the second category that Akatsuki Rising falls under. Gamers take on the role of Naruto and get started with his return to the village and subsequent search for the kidnapped Kakekage. The gameplay is 3D where gamers run around, lock onto enemies and unleash their attacks in an environment reminiscent of Kingdom Hearts with it’s free roaming feel. The lock-on is a lifesaver as enemies can get a bit lost. There is also the option to pick from a decent cast of characters, all updated for Shippuden, and fight with friends or the computer, but it’s the story based missions which received much of the attention. Also similar is the Tekken 6 story/adventure mode which meshes fighting game with adventure game.

Graphics – Blocky at times, but overall all the ninja look really good on the PSP. Environments are pulled right from the anime and even the cookie cutter bad guys feel pulled from the series. Jutsu attacks are fun to watch and even the menu and interface feels pulled from Naruto. This franchise has been done well going back to the PS2 and it shows in how well put forth the game is on Sony’s handheld. That being said it still does not match the level of detail shown in a Dissidia or even Tekken 6, but it serves fans well for a franchise we won’t see the end of for quite a while.

Sound – Some decent, if not recycled tracks, from previous games and the anime are here as are some bland forgettable ones. The voice work is spot on as it enlists the anime’s cast but there are only so many phrases a gamer can take, even a true Naruto fan. The sound won’t win any awards but it gets the job done.

Design – With all the characters and settings already outlined the game does a decent job of creating environments that feel familiar but look new compared to the anime. The source material really eliminates this category as everything is accounted for minus the predictable forest and city settings. Its Naruto folks, fans know what to expect.

Miscellaneous – For a game that is pretty much set, cast in it’s way by the manga and anime, the one thing Akatsuki Rising does well is spins the story with the Akatsuki mode. Such a simple thing really works well as being bad is sometimes so good.

Overall, Akatsuki Rising is a great addition to any Naruto fans game collection. Knowing how the story plays out does not take away anything from the addition that is Naruto from leveling up to filling in missing pieces of the story, journeys to different lands and of course the enemy’s perspective. AR stays true to what it is, a continuation of the Naruto story put to a formula established on the PS2 to great success. Fans need apply, PSP owners looking for a new gaming adventure, give it a rent, all others wait for the next Naruto for a more (hopefully) refined game.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Samurai Harem vol. 2 Impression

Samurai Harem volume 2 manga
Two new ladies join the ever expanding (and busty) cast of Samurai Harem: Asu No Yoichi in volume 2 from Tokyopop. The first volume brought to us by the creative Yu Minamoto set the stage for a very interesting harem manga but its volume 2 that takes it to a different level with not just a new busty lady but also another leading man … at least in the eyes of one student.

Yoichi finally has a problem he knows how to handle. School, girls and technology all confuse him, what with growing up in the mountains, but the arrival of Tsubasa and Angela change that. These two femme fatales have one purpose, to eliminate Yoichi and restore their clan to prominence. Ok, well at least Angela is out for blood, Tsubasa just wants to experience a normal school girl’s life and she’s even smitten by Washizu. So as Tsubasa tries to blend in, Angela takes it upon herself to kill Yoichi and in the end they both learn something about themselves. Does Yoichi end up dead? Nope, and he even gets a practice date with Ibuki much to the brooding worry of her sister Ayame. For Yoichi nothing is easy, but when you’re as oblivious as this country bumpkin, days just go by with no major trouble.

I love this book. It starts with the art, very sharp, well drawn and unique. While Yoichi is plain (duh, supposed to be) and Ibuki is ok, frankly a bit too busty, it’s her sisters that are unique looking, ditto for the new additions. Yes there are panty shots and very, very detailed lingerie (kinda odd for an assassin) but each character has a unique look. My favorite is Ayame, that trendy, pop culture and not too overly busty, but that’s just me. Angela’s white eyes really show that cold blooded killer in her, she is quite unique. The second thing I love about this series is the story, predictable yes, but I have a soft spot for this type of manga. Will Yoichi fall for Ibuki or Ayame or? What will the next funny encounter be? It’s not just the relationships but the new experience for Yoichi, seeing normal things from the perspective of one isolated for so long. Oh, there is also fighting, good fights with bullies, assassins and more, its good times.

Overall this second volume of Samurai Harem delivers the good, gets borderline … adult so kiddies stay away and really is a great read. It’s clean, crisp art takes a story that, while not totally original, nails what it is, a harem manga with great art and fun encounters. Check it out if Tenchi tickles your fancy but lacked in the boob or panty department.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Tower of Druaga DVD Set 1 Impression

Tower of Druaga anime DVD set 1
Bringing peace to Uruk, isn’t that what a hero should do, something noble and great? This is the cause for which Jil, a novice climber, takes on the challenges of the legendary Tower of Druaga. The Tower of Druaga DVD Set 1 from FUNimation, based on the Namco video game Tower of Druaga from back in the day (the 80’s folks this is my back in the day ok) throws some fun bones to the source material before stepping out in it’s very well deserved own light.

Jil is a novice climber, those that take on the ever challenging levels of the Tower of Druaga which the legendary warrior (and still alive King) Gilgamesh scaled decades before to defeat the dark god Druaga himself. Cast out of his initial group by his brother Neeba, Jil quickly finds himself recruited into a new group by the oracle Kaaya. The group, including Ahmey, Melt and Coopa prepares for the climb and the ultimate treasure the Blue Crystal Rod which will grant its owner a wish. Each climber has different reasons for taking on the towers levels from glory to treasure to hidden reasons. The climb has begun and it’s a race to conquer each level and reach the ultimate goal … but it’s a goal only a few truly comprehend including Neeba. Will Jil become the warrior his father was or just another glorified corpse? Let the game begin.

Let’s clear one thing up right away; this is not Record of Lodoss War in its seriousness and it’s not Ragnarok in its simplicity. Tower of Druaga is an anime that takes a simple story and creates an even grander adventure decades later with many payment of homage to the past, all while keeping a great sense of humor. The battle with Druaga and secret plot points are deadly serious, as is the ending but the tone of the series varies evident by the spoof of a first episode, traps that change characters genders, make them revert to the original game, a mini shopping arcade with fully stocked convenience store and even an very interesting military shower scene. It’s a fun anime that knows when to get serious and step up the character development through betrayal and secret motives. The opening sequence is fun and catchy and it’s setting in modern day Japan is neat.

So the story is great mixing humor as needed, and the animation is a step above Ragnarok, comparing due to the RPG/class based/fantasy based setting. No one character really stands out, the style does not stand out from anime before it but its done really, really well. The voice work is familiar to any anime fan as this cast is well experienced and it comes through in the final product, top grade.

Overall this is a great fantasy anime, one any anime fan will dig full of great action, humor, animation and voice acting and for gamers who played Druaga it offers up enough shout out to warrant a viewing if for nothing else than nostalgia sake. Revisit the tower you scaled over and over again all over again in a brand new setting and see what happened after you led Gilgamesh to glory.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Holiday Guides for Music and Anime Games

Posted these a few days, weeks back on The Examiner. I'm going to keep the full pieces there with just these links, but check it out. Yes these are from my hands on time with the games and with both it's not that I'm saying these are must have games, but they are targeted at a specific group so take notice. Sweetness!

Friday, November 27, 2009

Biomega vol. 1 Impression

Biomega volume 1 manga
It’s a good thing a picture is worth a thousand words, a creed that Tsutomu Nihei seems to live by. Biomega volume 1 from Viz is packed with action and gritty art but it’s very light on the text, a trait that in no way takes away from action that feels like a cross between Resident Evil, Dead Space, Ergo Proxy and Blade Runner.

The Earth is infected by a virus which turns humans into drones, zombies, which wander the land looking to feed. The only immune humans are called Accommodators, and it’s not they are immune, but rather they retain control of their emotions, who they are, after being infected. One such Accommodator is now the target of Zoichi Kanoe, essentially a bounty hunter under contract of Toa Heavy Industry to protect her with one small issue. A rival company, the DRF is also in pursuit of Eon Green, and they have employed their execution units, modified and transhuman soldiers to recover her. As Zoichi searches for Eon on his motorcycle he encounters a very intelligent bear, insanely strong soldiers, tons of zombies and a plot that could change the course of human evolution. With his trusty, remote, sidekick Zoichi must rescue Eon and save her from the experimentation that is to come.

Lots of comparisons, some tie to look, others to story. The art style is dark and gritty and lacks the sharp strokes of a ‘read for anime’ manga style. This feels much more like a story sketched out but not lacking in detail. There is a similarity to the Dead Space comics and some of the baddies look pulled from Ergo Proxy. The weapons and some of the desolate settings remind of Blade Runner, not as high-tech, but just that desolate feeling. The zombies, design as well as story of a spreading virus and corrupt corporations pull in both Resident Evil and Dead Space for the space born origins of the virus. Biomega is a quick read, but it warrants a patient eye to look at the art, the subtle detail passed over on the first read. It’s a mature title for sure but the gunplay, swords on motorcycle and even bigger gun on missile play is a joy to read.

Sometimes a manga just hits all the right cords. It’s not the most beautifully drawn epic and does not contain jaw dropping story detail, but it just works and works well. Biomega unleashes so much potential in this first volume and from the start the action ramps up to crazy levels that I hope don’t stop.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Black Bird vol. 1 Impression

Regular girl encounters the seductive and sexy world of the supernatural; sometimes she has ties to that world and is unaware. For Misao, her encounter with a world full of demons comes with a heavy price in volume 1 of Black Bird from Viz.

Misao can see spirits, usually docile, but as she turns 16 these spirits become much more aggressive towards her. Unlike others who can see spirits, Misao is very special. She is the bride of prophecy, a human who only comes around once in a long while. With a drink of her blood a demon will gain long life, a taste of her flesh the demon gains immortality and with marriage the demons clan will prosper and grow strong. Misao becomes aware of these details when attached by a bloodthirsty demon and her savior, Kyo, explains why she is being targeted Kyo is Misao’s childhood friend, returned after leaving at an early age. Not only is he back to protect Misao, he’s also back to attempt to gain her hand in marriage. Kyo is a Tengu, a demon of some stature, and he seeks to gain stature for his clan, but is that all? Kyo must overcome his base urges for Misao while protecting her from demons and rivals alike.

Kanoko Sakurakoji’s Black Bird is pretty good. The story does not feel major original, girl of prophecy, demons gain power by eating her, pretty boy demon with storied past protects her … yeah; it all feels familiar but also comfortable. While Misao is the center of attention it’s Kyo who has a deeper past, within his own clan and from rivals. Misao is just a player, a very important one, but still she learns much from Kyo and he must be the one to keep from consuming her. Supposedly demons cannot resist the blood of the bride, yet he gets by with helping her heal with a lick, read to believe. So we’ve got innocent girl, demons, good demon boy toy, a childhood past, a demon clan past … did I miss anything? Ah, the romance and relationship which is forming. As stated nothing feels special or new, it’s just done in a good manner with good humor mixed in, but not for kids.

The art screams shojo, meaning the boys are pretty, girls are innocent and slender and it feels romantic. The backgrounds are non-existent, but characters are meant to and do take center stage. Black Bird is good, but it’s in a crowded field for shojo manga, of course this does not matter as movies like Twilight will put supernatural manga in hot demand … at lest it should.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

5 Reasons to pick PlayStation 3

It really does do everything. The PlayStation 3 did not start the current console war with a bang. A higher price point, stiff competition from Xbox 360, especially online, and the emergence of the Wii and its casual following combined to slow adoption of Sony’s incredibly powerful gaming, Blu-ray beast of a machine. While the start may not have been as strong as desired a marathon is never won in the first few miles. The race is in full swing now that Sony has dropped the gloves by dropping the price, a move both Microsoft and Nintendo have implemented also. So what helps separate PS3 from the rest of the pack? We take a look at five reasons to pick PS3 based on recent system updates, features and some hands on time with the system.

Price – $299 is the message behind the commercials and as the tagline says this system really does everything. Many Blu-ray players have dropped in price, but none offer such a powerful gaming system along with wireless functionality, downloadable content and the next bullet on this list, features.

– The latest software update, version 3.10, has one feature that is going to be huge, a sync with Facebook. Gamers can now share the games they play and trophy collection proudly on Facebook. Tweaks to the photo gallery have also been added and for those picture fanatics out there this is a way to share all your photos in HD, set them to music as a slide show during a party, it’s very flexible. Sony also gives PS3 owners a very manageable music interface, tons of downloadable content and a new Netflix streaming feature that only requires owners to have an account with Netflix to utilize the features. This is all in HD from Facebook to Netflix … anyone mention games yet?

Enhanced Blu-ray
– Starting with the Godzilla Blu-ray, movie owners will receive a code to download a portable, digital copy of the movie. Start the movie on the go with PSP; finish it at home on PS3 or vice versa. Sony Pictures is fast adopting this feature and with Blu-ray the format of note now other studios are following along. Blu-ray as a format is still not even close to filling its potential and more and more movies are loading up on the special features, yet another reason to go Blu-ray and PS3.

Outside the Home
– The PSP and PSPgo both offer outlets for the downloadable content but their remote play sync with PlayStation 3 open up a whole new world to a connected society that keeps going and going and going. Authorize your PSP and access all the media, music, photos, and video on the PS3 at home while on the road. Have a camera hooked up, check-in on the house, even turn off the system if the kiddies are not supposed to be gaming, nanny cam for a new generation. The PSP and its most recent software update, version 6.20, also adds to Sony’s overall appeal with Digital Comics from Marvel to mention one publisher, and SensMe, a music application which groups a gamers tunes and a new lineup of lower priced casual games … but more on those later with a look at PSP and PSPgo.

– Of course, finally the games. Read the features above and the PS3 is worth the price on those features alone but add in titles like Uncharted 2 and the God of War collection and its case closed. Exclusive titles are limited so a robust download offering helps and it’s an area Sony is quickly improving on. They did not do online gaming right the first time around, but check out the upcoming title MAG and things are looking up.

Sony has stepped up its game with features and selling points that range from social media to pictures and of course the games. This holiday season the battle for market share is going to be spectacular. Will the winner be Sony, Microsoft or Nintendo? Sony is putting one hell of a foot forward, and when the game gets moved to this level only gamers can benefit … and now non-gamers too.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Dragon Ball: Revenge of King Piccolo Impression

Dragon Ball: Revenge of King Piccolo
Dragon Ball Z is one of the most well known, most watched anime of all time. It was also one of the first truly successful anime based video games here in the states with the excellent Budokai franchise on the last generation of game consoles. Each of these releases touched on the episodic storylines and characters from DBZ but what about the origin of Goku? No, not how he becomes Super Saiyan, but rather is adventures as a young boy. Dragon Ball, also getting released by FUNimation, tells the tale of a child Goku as he meets Bulma, searches for the Dragon Balls and takes on villains like the Red Ribbon army and King Piccolo. These encounters and relationships remain in DBZ, but seeing where they came from is important, and now that story, that era is finally getting the gaming treatment it deserves from Namco Bandai Games in the form of Dragon Ball: Revenge of King Piccolo on the Wii. Why is this a great game for Dragon Ball fans and Wii gamers in general, lets take a look …

– Gamers take on the role of a young Goku as he battles it out with the Red Ribbon Army on 3D stages that feel pulled from the anime. It’s on the Wii so there are motion based attacks for Goku to pull off combos, kicks and of course the Kamehameha. Goku’s job is to collect the seven Dragon Balls while fighting against the Red Ribbon Army but can also take the fight to Tournament Mode. Tournament Mode allows gamers to go head-to-head with buddies in a more traditional fighting game setting.

– The Wii is not next-gen, but it puts out one sharp looking game. Dragon Ball looks like an extension of the anime, is bright, vivid and a pleasure to look at. There are a ton of cookie cutter Red Ribbon Army troops, but everyone looks good highlighting just how unique Akira Toriyama’s original manga and anime has been. The levels looked pulled from the source material and while there are some blocky graphics and bleed but overall the game looks sharp.

– The soundtrack is standard background music, nothing too special. The intro theme is very catchy and fun, gets the mood set just perfect for a great DB gaming experience. The voice work is from the anime, sparse but captures the mood. It sounds like Dragon Ball and does so well.

– Levels are pulled from various settings in the anime, look great but don’t require too much creativity. The design is already set from the anime, no need for originality or newly created settings. The level structure makes Goku go up, down and all around, some feels needless, but it’s a game, a plat former that require little monkey boy to navigate the various levels.

– While Dragon Ball Z got all the attention, and still does, seeing a non-handheld Dragon Ball adventure is pure gold. The looks, sounds, everything about this game is refreshing and a trip back to a simpler time for anime gamers who cut their teeth on fan-subs of Goku and Bulma’s non Super Saiyan adventures. The simpler concepts and gameplay fit the Wii very well and Goku shines in reliving his early adventures.

you gotta love some Dragon Ball on the Wii. It’s easy for a licensed property, especially one as storied and plain awesome as Dragon Ball, to saturate the market with cookie cutter games to make a quick buck but in this case with Goku as a kid. The source material is rich and deep, unexplored on the gaming console landscape and it’s with this in mind that any anime fan with a Wii needs to get Revenge of King Piccolo and any parent looking for a fun game for their kids should also take a look.

MAG Beta on PlayStation 3 is SWEET

MAG for PlayStation 3
In January 2010 PlayStation owners will have the chance to take part in online warfare the likes of which console gamers have never experienced. MAG for the PlayStation 3 boast battles with up to 256 players, no bots, online at once but this is just the tip of the iceberg in a game closer to Metal Gear Solid than Halo or SOCOM. The game is still in beta but after spending some time with both Sony and the online beta it’s never too early to give an impression of a title that should be pre-ordered and put under the tree this holiday season. Let’s take a look at one massive action game …

Gameplay – Gamers pick a side, the technology savvy Raven, the disgruntled, patchwork S.V.E.R. or the well funded, more traditional Valor. The year is 2025 and nations no longer mobilize their own military but rather turn to the PMC’s of the world, the three most powerful being Raven, S.V.E.R. and Valor. Pick a side, customize your character and jump into battle, but at a progressive state. Gamers must achieve level 3 to take part in the Suppression gameplay mode. In this mode gamers disrupt their opponents operations. At level 4 its Acquisition time which consist of stealing some rides, and not GTA style, but PMC style so airlift that ride out for some research. Level 7 is where it’s time to party with Domination, 256 player wars where oil infrastructure drives the gameplay and the fun just begins. Level 60 is the cap and as gamers advance they are granted points to customize their troop. Customization is deep, but more on that soon. As part of these massive battles gamers must follow order that contain a true military hierarchy with leaders earning their rights. The leadership can alter the course of battle by scrambling the opponent’s communication to calling in air strikes. Each 8 player squad, part of a larger platoon, must carry out their orders and earn points to get stronger. Battles last 20 minutes so no sitting back and waiting, eventually the fight must reach a conclusion. Vehicles do play a role both in battle and as mobile spawn points.

Graphics – From time spent with the beta the environments are detailed and each soldier carries the detail their creator outlined for them. The comparisons to Metal Gear Solid shine in the troops as they look pulled from MGS4 and many of Kojima’s vision seems to come through on the battlefield. For a title still in beta it looks really good and just gets crazier with more troops jumping into the fray.

Sound – Plenty of choices for the default voice with surround sound coming in handy for getting fully immersed. One aspect spoken of during the review, but not yet experienced is the ability to hear troops, friendly and not so much, as they speak. Yes, get close enough to another group of soldiers and you’ll hear their voices in your TV, not mic, which means large platoons can coordinate movement and even spy on the enemy. Think, hide at a spawn point and listen to your foe talk about their plans, then relay back to your squad. An incredible use of sound, one which can change the course of battle.

Design – Character customization is off the charts. Levels, those experienced so far, offer plenty of vantage points. Withholding further comment until full version is released, but there is no lack of solid level and troop design, weapons, etc thus far.

Miscellaneous – Besides the obvious 256 player and cool features outlined so far the troop customization. Players can create five kits, five troops which they can switch in and out of as the battles progress which means no being locked into one troop while in battle. Wait, it gets better. Unlike most MMO’s MAG is not class restrictive. Imagine a fantasy MMO like World of Warcraft where your mage could wield the most devastating melee weapon as a master, serve as a master healer and thief. What MAG does is allows the gamer to customize any and every aspect so don’t get locked into being just a medic, be a medic with some crazy snipping skills. As skill points are gained the customization only gets deeper, no character is the same which can lead to some incredible squads.

Overall, MAG offers an experience years ahead of SOCOM, battlefield wise, and with the beta there are new gameplay elements being unlocked every day. The chance to play in a future war based around PMC’s is a wet dream for this gamer. It really feels like an extension of what MGS has created jacked up a few levels which is saying something. There is much more to happen from now till release so final judgment will be withheld, especially as there is much more to learn, levels to gain in the beta. A deep website and feedback forum mean the game is in the gamer’s hands, and so far its one hell of a war.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Evangelion 1.0: You Are (Not) Alone DVD Impression

Evangelion 1.0 You Are Not Alone
One anime hooked me. One anime launched the golden age of anime in the 90’s. One anime defined excellence that is still rarely matched. Evangelion, odd endings and all, still holds a place as one of the top anime of all time. The character development, human emotions, controversial subject matter mixed with arguable the greatest anime soundtrack ever to deliver incredible mech action, if you can consider Eva’s mechs. The character design is still original and iconic with many a fanboy clamoring for the first and third child. High praise, I hope so, as Evangelion was and still is that special. The only knock on Eva today is, like many anime, it’s not aged well in the animation quality department, an issue that is now resolved with FUNimation’s release of Evangelion 1.0: You Are (Not) Alone on DVD.

Hideaki Anno’s sci-fi masterpiece has been unleashed for a new generation with some major changes. For sports fans imagine taking your favorite retried athlete and upgrading them into a modern version, yeah, it’s like Jordan in his prime going head to head with the best there is today. The story has not changed much as Shinji is still front and center with his fatherly issues intact. This first DVD, yes there will be more, introduces Shinji to NERV, the Eva’s, Rei and of course the Angels. It feels so familiar, and should, so why should non-diehard fans care?

Reason #1: The animation. This update looks incredibly sharp with little detail added in form ID cards to reflections in glass lens. Signature moments have been carried over from the original with enough new angles and looks that even the most seasoned fan will be pleased.

Reason #2: The design. Characters all look outstanding, and as they should. No major facelifts and this is a great thing as this is an iconic anime. The small changes to the angels add to their alien like nature. Tokyo-3 looks spot-on as it should; it’s Evangelion but just better.

Reason #3: The sound. The iconic music is back, nuff said. The voice actors have encountered a few changes, but so far Shinji and Misato are back in all their original glory and the cicada won’t stop buzzing in my head.

Reason #4: The story: It’s shorter and changed up just enough. No detail to be revealed here, the joy is seeing these changes, but lets just say the preview for volume 2, now that is where things are going to get very crazy and very new, yes new.

Overall it really is this simple. If you liked Evangelion before, buy this DVD, period. If you have heard of Evangelion, curios, buy this DVD. If you are an anime fan, buy this DVD. If you’ve read this article this far, buy this DVD. Yeah, I’m done; I say it’s that good.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Pleasure Model Impression

Pleasure Model
Heavy Metal invokes memories of magazines with insane art, buff and bare ladies and men set in fantasy settings as well as one VHS at Blockbuster which housed a series of animated stories set in this same universe. Heavy Metal was that which a child of my age should not have seen but which is burned into my mind. Now as an adult I get to experience that first impression all over again with Pleasure Model from Tor which falls under the new Heave Metal Pulp: Netherworld Book 1 (whew!) heading. The story is written by Christopher Rowley with cover art by Gregory Manchess and interior art by Justin Norman. As I read Pleasure Model I was treated to a few characteristics which reminded me of my first encounters with Heavy Metal but left with an impression of having read a combination of Blade Runner and CSI. Let’s take a look at the story then head back to examination.

Rook has seen a lot of strange cases but his latest involving the murder of a high-ranking, former military commander will top any experience he’s ever had. While the murder seems fairly straight forward the discovery of an illegal pleasure mod as well as the strong arm tactics of some government agencies, Rook begins to think this murder was anything but. As his life is put into the cross hairs his suspicions are confirmed in a very explosive way. As Rook finds himself on the run with Plesur, the genetically grown, child-like pleasure mod, he must rely on friends old and new to stay alive long enough to unlock the secrets within Plesur. Hidden friends in the government, enemies in high-places with advanced weapons is just the beginning of what Rook must deal with, not to mention his growing feelings for Plesur.

The cover art fits in perfect with what Heavy Metal is known for. It’s erotic, seductive and menacing all at the same time. The internal art which breaks up the copy and chapters nicely, is just begging for its own fully fleshed out comics. The style gives readers just enough to form the entire Pleasure Model world and enhance the reading experience. The story is well told and follows a flow that only a murder can put into motion. Rook is an ordinary cop put into an extraordinary situation. The technology of the future from Rook’s very smart Nokia to internally implanted chips hints at a world much, much different than our own, yet containing the same wants and desires. What I’m getting at is this is our world in the future, almost a time before what’s seen in a film like Bladerunner. The sexual encounters, fetish encounters and settings all speak to what Heavy Metal is all about but this book is deeper, much deeper than just smut. The story is engaging, mystery just waiting to be solved and the conspiracy deep, so deep in fact this book is just the beginning.

Pleasure Model is not going to set any new standards in writing, but it does what it’s supposed to, and does it well. Reader get a fast paced action packed story that goes into the underbelly of society in a technological future where any fantasy or desire is possible down to genetically engineered mods. Rook’s adventure will hook readers are the mystery is more than half the fun, as is the budding emotions of Plesur … and just when it all gets really good, well you’ll just have to read to know what I’m talking about.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

World of Warcraft: Death Knight manga Impression

World of Warcraft: Death Knight manga
Origin stories are a mixed bag. On one hand they reveal the angst, mystery and mystery behind the seemingly most vile or heroic characters. World of Warcraft: Death Knight from Tokyopop is a manga that does exactly this for the renegade death knight Thassarian. Set in the very, very popular World of Warcraft expansion Wrath of the Lich King, Death Knight takes the game offline to tell the story of Thassarian, a character whom many WoW players have helped in the Northrend to battle against the Lich King. Let’s take a look at a bit of Thassarian’s history and why gamers should give a Lich about him.

A loyal soldier to Lordaeron, one whom lives in his father Killoren shadow, of both his lessons and his heroic death, Thassarian lives to serve and follow orders. With his mother and sister he works as a farmer hoping for the one chance to gain promotion in the army ranks. Sadly he is not meant to lead, only to follow, and follow he does as Prince Arthas into the north for a campaign that will change his life forever. Betrayed by the prince and doomed to serve the Lich King Thassarian serves well and proves his loyalty in the most bitter way and continues to recruit more to the death knight banner until an encounter with spirits and ‘the light’ which helps the loyal servant break from the Lich King’s command. As one of the first free death knights Thassarian must manage his ties to his former life and his drive for vengeance while encountering humans that would willingly serve the Lich King. His story is far from over, but to understand the desired location one must see the path that came before.

Story wise what Death Knight does is something novels such as Dragonlance and Forgotten Realms have done quite few times, and that’s take a popular character, in this case character and class, and tell their back-story which ties into the larger story down the road. For Thassarian, he’s an online game character that Tokyopop is taking and expanding on the printed page. The tale moves along at a nice pace giving his background, how he came into his powers and how he formed his decision to fight the Lich King. What is not explored is the world around. Beyond the Scourge being present and the need to fight them time is not spent detailing who, what the Lich King is, how he creates death knights, not even how is father, Killoren, passed in battle. The story has a focus on Thassarian and does the job well of telling this tale. What this means to gamers is debatable. If gamers have encountered Thassarian, seeing where he came from may be of great interest, and as a one shot manga it works very well for telling the story and its cost as a manga.

The art style is a mix of East meets West as the manga influence is there, but the format reads left to right, more like a comic here in the states. The detail in both chacaracters and settings is well detailed but no character looks ultra realistic, this is the manga influence. Characters, settings and weapons are all very familiar looking and overall the art style is not too anime or too manga to alienate fans. The elves retain their unique Warcraft look as do brief glimpses of dwarves and other creatures of the realm. This art style is brought to life by Rocio Zucchi with the story crafted by a Warcraft manga vet Dan Jolley who’s worked on Warcraft: Legends.

Overall this is an excellent one-shot manga that helps to flesh out the background of a very popular character class and specific character seen in the Lich King expansion. For manga fans, fantasy genre especially, this is a great look into a game and world that they may or may not be part of and want to join. There are some nice bonus materials from an interview with Jolley to a look at Legends volume 5. A really good overall package with a good story and good art. This is coming from a non Warcraft player so views of fans may differ, but I’d be interested to see how.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Magikano DVD Impression

Magikano DVD Set
As far as harem anime go Magikano from FUNimation leaves a bit to be desired but it does have its charming points. This collection pulls together the three previously released DVD’s and bundles them into one nice package that warrants a look for fans of this genre. Magikano is not the best looking girl at the bar but if far from closing time fodder also, let’s take a look.

Haruo Yoshikawa’s family has a secret, one his sisters Maika, Chiaki and Fuyuno each know. They are witches with extraordinary power, which you’d think older brother Haruo would be aware of … if he was not 100% lacking in any power himself. One day a mysterious girl shows up and changes Haruo’s life forever. Ayumi is magic royalty, cursed to lose her power if she cannot help Haruo come into his own. Her method; serve as his live-in maid and try to get it on by any means possible. Add in one possessive class president, a way too obsessive sister and a non-too bright disciple of magic and the stage is set for a whole bunch of ladies trying to get and keep Haruo’s attention for a variety of reasons. The group encounters a pool ghost, spells causing love at first sight and dreams of interesting types as well as a bit of time travelling and a school event where the MVP wins a kiss. Nothing is normal for Haruo once Ayumi shows up and for Ayumi what begins as a mission of need turns into a labor of love as feelings grow. The ultimate goal is to awaken Haruo’s latent magic but seems he has a much deeper secret that only the most high in magic’s society know which could destroy two worlds.

So one geeky guy, tons of hot chicks mixed with crazy adventures and the growth of feelings and you’ve got the premise for a third of the DVD’s on any store shelf. So what does Magikano do to separate itself from its running mates? Nothing. Sorry folks but Magikano as an anime is not deep, not engaging and just not super special in any way. The art style is so-so; animation quality is mid-level and the characters forgettable. The plot and adventures try too hard; there is just not enough here to warrant more than a rental. Now the good thing is its one DVD collection, two discs, one set, so not too bad on the wallet, and while it did not float my boat there are those fans who just love any and every harem anime. That is the audience as far as I can see. It’s almost closing time, you could do worse, but also much better.

Oh, there is one thing I’ll always remember, kitty panties. Yes, cursed, magic increasing panties that are crude and reference smoothness and something itching its back; this is what I’ll remember from Magikano …kitty panties … yeah.

KimiKiss vol. 2 Impression

KimiKiss volume 2
Back in September we took a look at volume 1 of KimiKiss from Tokyopop, a manga that is a dating simulation game, but without the game. Essentially the perspective of the stories, encounters, and nervousness of characters is all pulled from the very popular genre of dating simulation, and it’s pulled off quite well. Now Tokyopop has release volume 2 of KimiKiss and while the story and players are different the results are almost the same. Why almost, well there are a few areas volume 2 comes up short in compared to volume 1, mainly the naughtiness department, so let’s take a look.

Asuka is a soccer prodigy, a girl who practices her butt off and even competes with the boy’s team to train. While working out with the boys is helpful most of her time is spent alone trying to improve her skill. A chance meeting, a ball hitting head encounter with Kouichi leads to a training partner for Asuka as well as an unforeseen romantic interest. As the two train together they grow closer and eventually must share their feelings or continue to move along awkwardly with each other. The training moves off the pitch as Asuka and Kouichi take on one of life’s most challenging games; the game of love.

The story is very, very straight forward. Asuka and Kouichi start as friends and through a shared task, soccer and also studying, they fall for each other. This is young romance at its most basic and this is one of the shortcomings from volume 1. The encounters are very vanilla compared to the ‘love teacher’ found in volume 1. This is not a bad thing, but readers will not feel as guilty with this volume. The story gets to the point and does not muck up the water with additional characters so it works well overall. The art is good and characters well drawn, environments very, very normal and emotions captured well enough. Again, even with the same artist, the concept does not feel as fresh as volume 1 and the interesting encounters lack a bit. The cover art is poster worthy, very well drawn and should draw many readers to it on store shelves.

Overall volume 2 of KimiKiss is more of the same but a tad lighter than volume 1. The romantic encounters don’t hold up to volume 1 but they do represent well. A nice story, a good angle on a gaming genre that is not as well covered here in the states.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Brutal Legend on PS3 Impression

Brutal Legend on PS3
Brütal Legend on PlayStation 3 is everything there is to love about an original video game in the sequel heavy market. It’s beautiful to look at, easy to play and navigate and sports a story and humor that the talented case of voices only helps to enhance. This is just the tip of the berg; this is one deep game that finally gets the mainstream attention that creator Tim Schafer missed with PsychoNauts on the last generation of consoles. So how does a game starring Jack Black with a focus on Metal (music folks, music) succeed so well, let’s take a look …

Gameplay – 3rd person action time folks. Main character Eddie Riggs runs around wielding his battle axe (melee attacks) and guitar (magic attacks). He can jump into his ride to traverse the large world finding ‘secrets’ everywhere. These secrets include locked dragon icons which when unlocked help to increase health as well as history and landmark icons. Side missions about also from transporting kegs to ambushes. The main action consists of boss battles which are usually Eddie alone, and Stage Battles. The Stage Battles are interesting as they feel quazi RTS-ish (the Sega classic Herzog Zwei was inspiration) but they are not. Gamers control Eddie and all his moves from melee attacks to team-up attacks (powerful) but they also need to secure Fan geysers, think resources, to turn the scale of battle and be revived as well as troops. A quick interface allows for the ‘building’ of a variety of troop types who take the field and go at it. They are pretty smart, stay in groups and follow basic commands so not to much resource management here. Battles get pretty crazy so ordering up troops to suite the situation is a snap decision, it’s like being in a mosh pit and texting your girl … possible but the results may not always be desired. There is also a decent multi-player, online option but the single-player game is so many by itself.

Graphics – As stated the game world feels like an old album cover from the best of the metal albums. There’s metal, babes, iconic, ruined landmarks and so much more. The world feels open and easy to maneuver with detail down to the last flower. The game is not supposed to be ultra-realistic such as Uncharted but rather takes a more Jak & Daxter approach that suites Tim’s imagination perfectly. The graphics reflect a snippet of what must be in Schafer’s head in all their next-gen, HD glory.

Sound – Triple-A on all fronts from the genuine metal music to the freaking awesome voice talent. There’s Jack Black but also Rob Halford of Judas Priest, Lemmy Kilmister of Motörhead, Lita Ford and Ozzy Osbourne to name a few and even the sub-characters sound good. By far a soundtrack that suits the game theme, perfect, and no other world need be used for sound and
Brütal Legend.

Design – Tim Schafer is both genius and a bit scary, but they go hand-in-hand anyway. Nothing about Brütal Legend’s design feel been there, done that. The characters are well designed, some feel pulled from That 70’s Show, while the beasties look like something out of Hell Raiser. Anyone familiar with Schafer’s prior work should expect the unexpected, out of this world design but for those new to Schafer just know this; Brütal Legend looks like no game you’ve played before and this is a very, very good thing. Even with the unique design the controls don’t take really any learning curve to get up to speed with, another design accomplishment … it feels natural from start.

Miscellaneous – The music man, it’s the music! Well, partly actually. The music, metal, influence from Tim’s younger years comes through in such clarity that it’s sure to ignite a revival of the genre … not that’s its dead or anything. Eddie’s character is stuck in modern times serving as roadie to all that is wrong with music today when he’s thrown back to an age, a place and time that just feels right for him. A land build by a metal beast/god that needs some liberation from and evil overlord, enter Doviculus. Eddie is not the hero, he’s the roadie to support lead(er) Lars Halford. The way Tim dumped his imagination into this disc is simple excellent and through unlockable art and more gamers can really see how a game should be crafted.

Overall, there is much more to Brütal Legend then the highlights mentioned above. The story holds more secrets and fun and one of the biggest selling points is the humor, twisted and normal, subtle facial expressions from the characters that Schafer brings across. Pop in the disc, meet Jack Black and be quickly introduced to Eddie as he’s thrown into a world of metal that needs saving that only the best roadie can carry out. Take up axe, guitar and car to slash and smash through 1:1 battles and stage battles while killing some of the craziest looking characters this side of Hell Raiser and thrown in a dash of RPG upgradability and tons of exploration and that’s Tim Schafer’s world of legend. A great game, a great ride but only apply if you’ve a taste for metal, Jack Black and some bloody and gore … good times.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

St. Dragon Girl vol. 1 Impression

When it comes to Shojo manga, for the ladies, I am not an expert but I do enjoy the change in story telling, art and overall direction from the Shonen titles. There is usually no lack of action or intrigue but rather most of the good stuff from Shonen titles comes across with more, well heart to pick Viz cheese-tastic phrase. None of this change with St. Dragon Girl volume 1 from Viz as the action is there but from a more feminine standpoint. Let’s take a look …

Momoka Sendou loves martial arts and excels in the practice. Her school life is fairly normal until her childhood friend Ryuga Kou has a little mishap. Kou is a Chinese magic user, one who battles and banishes demons and during one such encounter he summons a dragon spirit to enter him and infuse him with power just to see it accidentally enter Momoka (whoops!). Now nicknamed “Dragon Girl” not only must Momoka carry on her normal life she must also fight demons along with Ryuga. Their first encounter together is against the curse of the Serpent King who takes a human bride, in this case Shunran, Momoka’s friend. After this encounter trouble continues to roll in the form of an art teacher trapping fighting girls, two mischievous cat demons in a mirror and the arrival of a rival for Ryuga. Top this all off with a kiss being needed to activate her dragon powers and now Momoka’s life is anything but normal.

Natsumi Matsumoto, thanks for creating a charming manga. The art you’ve crafted is very Shojo, simple but enjoyable to look at. The detail is minimal even in complicated clothing while the character designs are not too childish nor grown up, it feels adolescent which is the purpose. The story is very loose in detail, with some background coming in with the rival’s arrival but otherwise things just happen. The demon encounters seem normal, the family background touched on but not in great detail … not even Momoka’s love for pandas is fully fleshed out.

What St. Dragon Girl amounts to is a manga perfect for the younger female demographic. It’s got a crush story, good/simple design and an easy to follow story that’s not too complicated, not too sappy and actually containing a decent amount of action. Not every Shojo title is all ponies and girly stuff and while I would not recommend this to older boys I will not tell younger boys to shy away, heck it has dragons, demons and tons of kicking action. Mixed bag overall but youngsters should enjoy, older folks no real reason to explore.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Soul Eater English dub episode 3

Simple post, sweet clip from FUNimation on YouTube for Soul Eater, check it out ...

Pokemon Platinum: Arceus TCG Impression

Pokemon Arceus deck
A few months back we took a look at Pokémon Platinum: Rising Rivals trading card game (TCG) and enhancements, improvements to the theme decks and boosters. Now Pokémon is at it again with a new set of boosters and two new theme decks, but why get excited about this new deck? Simply put get excited for Arceus. There are a few tweaks to gameplay which Pokémon Platinum: Arceus brings to the table, the main one being a doozy. Let’s take a look and updates to this storied TCG franchise.

New Pokémon: Each new deck, booster, brings with it updates to or completely new Pokémon. The latest additions to this Platinum sub-set are Arceus as the title implies. These Pokémon as said to have shaped the Pokémon universe and they span all the elements so there is no true counter for an Arceus only deck. There are at least ten Arceus cards in these boosters and decks to choose from. Also introduced are shiny Pokémon Bagon, Ponyta, and Shin.

Unlimited Arceus: Major change in rules here is gamers can have as many Arceus in their deck as they desire. This is major as the Trainer and Stadium cards that affect Arceus could potentially be setup to cover an entire battle deck, quite advantageous for the gamer.

Rules from Pokémon SP: Few carryover rules also help out this deck. Team Galactic is back and still retain their icons on cards so they can enhance battles in addition to the SP ratings. The LV.X designations introduced in Diamond & Pearl remain which also further enhance battle conditions and powers, of course with their stated restrictions.

Overall, the Arceus additions will really change how some gamers update their decks. The name of the game is still the same, but now that this is the second series to include the LV.X and other Diamond & Pearl changes gamers know much better how to incorporate and play them. Now with Arceus the level goes up a notch and the only choice now it do gamers purchase the Flamemaster or Stormshaper decks … or both?

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Disgaea 2: Dark Hero Days on PSP Impression

Disgaea 2: Dark Hero Days on PSP
Disgaea 2: Dark Hero Days on PSP is just the latest entry in the quirky strategy role-playing franchise. While not an original title this port of the PlayStation 2 original offers up a number of upgrades, tweaks and extra gameplay. Is any of this enough reason to pick up a copy on the PSP? The short answer is yes for any strategy RPG or plain role-playing fan, especially if you have a thing for twisted humor, anime styling and exploding Prinny, let’s take a look …

Gameplay – A very, very detailed strategy role-playing game with hours of gameplay covered by the underworld dressing that is Disgaea. The game is played on a grid-based map where, prior to battle, gamers equip and select their units to participate in battle. The rules for each encounter may vary from keeping a certain ally alive to killing everyone so this is where the strategy comes in. Tons of resource management, character management and battles, that’s what Disgaea is all about.

– The PSP reproduces the PS2 to a tee. The animated sequences are outstanding and the game is very easy to follow on the PSP screen. This is old-school, sprite based graphics at their finest, no 3D to worry about.

Sound – Outstanding voice work, some pulled from the original but more implemented for the new scenarios. The intro music is as catchy as ever and both Adell and Rozalin highlight was is a deep and talented voice cast. The background music is quirky and catchy, something the entire franchise shares.

Design – The original Disgaea was, and is, a thing of beauty when it comes to character design. They are not traditional anime in their look and can really only be described as Disgaea. The levels get an update with the new Geo Panel functionality where not only can powers be enhanced but the terrain changed. Disgaea has always been a thing of beauty to look at and 2 on PSP is no exception.

Miscellaneous – This is not an original game and the Disgaea franchise is beyond cult now. The original was tough to find on PS2 but that’s changed. The Nintendo DS has tasted Disgaea, PlayStation 3 has an entry and the PSP, and well this is the third entry following up on a re-release of the original and the first action titles Prinny: Can I Really Be the Hero! That being said this franchise and its unique gameplay (insane combo attacks) and level of detail makes it a must have for gamers even if played before. What separates this franchise is its unique characters, settings and manner in which it does not come close to taking itself serious. Gamers get Adell, the last truly human in his world, striking out to defeat the Overlord Zenon and doing so with his, accidentally, summoned daughter Rozalin. These two form a nice romance and must battle with all the crazy characters from the original including the Prinny army of Etna. Yes the game is solid but the setting and characters move it over the top.

Overall, Disgaea 2 on PSP tweaks the original enough with extras such as Axel’s adventure and the Geo Paneling to warrant another gameplay through for veteran gamers and a first time for any fan of Final Fantasy Tactics or the slew of strategy RPG’s on DS and PSP.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Nabari DVD Set 1 Impression

Nabari DVD set 1
Nabari: The Complete Series Part One on DVD from FUNimation is a must have for Naruto, Ninja Scroll and Persona (art) fans. Yeah this is a lofty list of ‘must’ but when you breakdown this first collection it hits on so many levels with these groups … it’s excellent, just excellent on every level. That’s this guy’s opinion but see why I think this way then take a chance; this is not a long shot, not at all.

The ninja world exist in modern times. It’s the Nabari world, one where ninja clash in the shadows and carry out their assigned missions while leading normal, daily lives and blending in. Miharu finds himself smack dab in the middle of this world due to his possessing the Shinra Banshou. This power is coveted by every faction on the Nabari world as Miharu can rule if he so chooses, but guess what, he really could care less. As he’s recruited into his school’s ninja club by Kouichi and Kumohira, who also protect him from an assassination attempt, Miharu has no choice but to confront this new world and the power within himself. Miharu soon finds himself joined by a vengeance seeking samurai and ends up an ally with one as doomed as himself in Yoite. Miharu is exposed to an assassination attempt, attack on a ninja village and the pull of various ninja factions for his services. Miharu must navigate these waters as the Kouga, Fuuma, Togakushi and more all push and pull on Miharu as nothing more than a piece on a greater chess board. The players are many, factions divided and goals very similar but which path will Miharu choose … that’s the fun of the journey.

So story wise I am not, 100% not, going to ruin this anime for anyone. Miharu is the main character but there are so many more, the Kouga mentioned come in at the end of this collection but they offer a third faction to go with everyone else and each faction has such unique looking, speaking, acting characters. It’s a very deep world to explore. This deep world of ninja draws comparison to Naruto as does Miharu possessing such a deadly power. The Nabari world is like a modern day Ninja Scroll with the cast of characters while its diversity does favor Naruto. The characters from the teacher Togakushi to the gloomy Yoite can also compare to Kakashi and Sasuke in some instances. What I’m getting at is Nabari feels like a more grown up, modern Naruto which is one of the highest compliments I can pay. The action is outstanding as is the character development which gives everyone involved more than just surface development. Everyone has a background, demons and skeletons they must encounter and there really is no true good vs. evil but rather tons of gray. The story moves along at an excellent pace and is quite enjoyable. I’ve not mentioned Miharu is a twisted little sucker as he takes pleasure in torturing and manipulating others, good and funny.

The art is some of my favorite due to its being so similar to Persona 4 and 5 on PlayStation 2 as well as Tokyo Majin also from FUNimation. There is a realism to each design, a coolness that is not matched in many series. Time was put into stylish clothes and looks that match the personality of each character, it looks quite good. The settings are normal, not outlandish it’s everyday settings. Just look at the cover, watch the trailer, this series rocks.

Overall Nabari is a ninja anime fans dream, a great extension to any Naruto fans anime library and what drew so many into anime back in the 80’s and 90’s. This is high praise for a series, I know, but I really enjoyed it and think you will too.

Nyko Zoom Case Nintendo DSi Camera Impression

Nyko Zoom Case
When it comes to the Nintendo DSi there are a lot, a ton of peripherals and add-ons. With the DSi there is one feature that’s not been expanded on until now and that’s the camera, the external facing camera to be specific. How good is the Nyko Zoom Case for the Nintendo DSi and is it worth the purchase? The answer ultimately depends on the user, how much they use the camera and it’s built in DSi features. Let’s take a look at a few angles …

Camera – The camera itself is very easy to use. Gamers attach the included DSi case, which will require removal of any other case. This case has a cover over the camera slot that is removed so the camera can be put in place. A very easy process and since there is not software needed it’s an easy function. The camera itself does a very good job of zooming but that’s it. Don’t expect this to make anyone a photo journalist but it does serve the purpose of getting up close without actually being up close. Picture quality is a bit grainy, depending on light, but overall is like being up close with the DSi. The lens weight can drag down the opened DSi potentially leading to the open/close function to loosen.

Case and Lens – The case is black which may turn off some gamers, but it’s easy to attached and kind weird looking without the camera. It takes nothing away from gaming, browsing, anything really and offer a quick and easy way to attach the camera. Removal of the case is also very easy. There are three color lenses included, red, green and blue, which do add some fun to the DSi features. A nice addition to a very serviceable camera.

Miscellaneous – The prices is $24.99. Not a bad price considering other case/stylus sets clock in anywhere from $5-15. The camera really is fun to use and with a good memory card can really allow gamers to show off their creative side.

Overall the Nyko Zoom Case for the Nintendo DSi is a good attachment considering the history of bad items on the market. Gamers can get up close in ways that could be awkward without the zoom. It would have been nice to see more control over the actual zoom the but the camera used for this article had a set zoom of 8x. Going from normal to 8x would have been great, and possible in the future, but if gamers are looking for a nice gift this holiday season for that picture crazy DSi gamer then they can’t go wrong with Nyko’s latest (and only) camera for the DSi.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Momogumi Plus Senki vol. 1 Impression

Momogumi Plus Senki volume 1 manga
To be an epic hero, one of legend and myth, how sweet would that be! Well, for Yuuki not so much, a tale told in Tokyopop’s Momogumi Plus Senki volume 1. Yuuki is not exactly and epic hero, but he’s ones reincarnation and to say things are not as great as you’d expect is an understatement. Death awaits Yuuki unless … well, let’s take a look.

Bad things seem to follow Yuuki, accidents that seem anything but. As he enters his new school Yuuki learns he is the reincarnation of the hero Momotaro of Japanese folklore. As the reincarnation Yuuki will die on his 18th birthday, that is unless he releases the curse put upon him, Momotaro, by demons in his past life. He’s not alone in his quest as his animal companions have also been reincarnated and are students in his school, Yukishiro (pheasant), Masahiko (dog) and Sawa (Monday). They each take on their animal forms, Dog, Monkey and Pheasant with the use of mask. These Jyuki will protect Yuuki as he must break the demons curse through two methods. Beheading the demons or fulfilling their conditions. From changing a song to being a friend the conditions vary from demon to demon and Yuuki has a few encounters right away. With his powerful sword … pen and trusty Jyuki it’s time for Yuuki to break the curse, or die at the age of 18.

Here in the States we don’t grow up with too much folklore from overseas which is really a shame as this is where Eri Sakondo has crafted a great story that is very new to most Westerners. The tale of Momotaro is so rich and enjoyable on its own. The legends are retold in the manga in cliff notes version by characters to explain the encounters Yuuki has, which is a great service to noobs to the tales. Resolving this curse gives the story a solid background and future as well as ending, which really is important for fans looking to get into a new series and can’t invest tens of volumes. That being said the little quirks in story such as resolving demon conditions, funny conditions at that, as well as how the whole school is reincarnated folks, who know they are reincarnated is fun and original. The school store has weapons, items for each reincarnation as they awake, it’s really interesting. So there is much more to the story and it mixes action and character development very well. The art is solid, just great to read but don’t expect too detailed backgrounds, it’s all about the characters, their emotions and different looks which is a good thing.

Overall Momogumi Plus Senki is hot, both in story and art, and worth any manga fans time. Give it a spin, pay attention to the age notice, and enjoy.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Dissidia: Final Fantasy on PSP Impression

Dissidia: Final Fantasy good and evil covers
What does a publisher do to celebrate the 20th Anniversary of one of the most influential gaming franchise of all time? Simple answer, create a fighting game with all the name characters from over the years and call it a day. Well, not quite the decision Square Enix made as they’ve crafted much more than a fighting game with Dissidia: Final Fantasy for the PSP. This unique story of Chaos vs. Cosmos pulls characters from each of the first ten Final Fantasy titles and pits them head to head in a unique fighting game that shared more in common with Kingdom Hearts than Castlevania: Judgment. Let’s take a look …

Gameplay – It’s a fighting game RPG that had and affair with a chess board and is a third cousin of Kingdom Hearts. First the RPG aspect. Gamers play as a variety of characters and as fights progress they gain items, levels and abilities which are managed as any RPG, any Final Fantasy would be managed. This is not a 1:1 fighting game in the vein of Tekken. So second it’s a fighting game, but gamers are put on a field with various levels and roam in 3D with a lock-on system pulled from Kingdom Hearts and lacks ‘rounds’ instead implementing a health/break system which allows for gamers to come back from defeat with the proper luck. Yes, luck is a huge factor as a fight can be over in seconds with the proper attacks. Third and final, gamers progress through the story on a grid based map, moving around with destiny points to take on foes, collect items and advance. So there’s the fighting game, chess, Kingdom Hearts, RPG angle. There are also quick fights to jump into outside the story where it’s man-on-man action, much more fighting game style. The actual combat is hit or miss, no real rhyme or reason which is a bit of a shame.

To further explain this game lets compare to Castlevania: Judgment. Konami’s anniversary Wii fighter took a bunch of characters, threw them into a time-spanning storyline and caused them to fight each other for various reasons in a 3D fighter a cross between Smash Bros. and Tekken. What Dissidia does it takes FF characters, throws them into a story that is Chaos vs. Cosmos spanning but allows for leveling up and growth as well as using a free-roaming battle system with lock-on most def needed. So by far this is not just a thrown together fighter.

Graphics – The cut scenes are spectacular and using so many iconic characters, beautiful. The menus are sharp and crisp, easy to follow. The in-game action is very fast-paced but looks great minus the bland levels. Special attacks and summons are as over-the-top as expected and look outstanding when pulled off. The in-game cut scenes also show a great level of detail and for the most part voice work syncs well with each character. Square Enix have proven before it can do the PSP proper and Dissidia is no exception.

Sound – The voice work is good as the industry has progressed and crossed over with anime. There are some very recognizable voices here. The speech itself is good if not corny at times. The music is a combination of games past matching the characters, foes, and settings, great to hear again. Think of this as a greatest hits collection of tunes, great for a CD and great in-game.

Design – Bland and confusing at times. Gamers can zip around on lines of light but the levels don’t offer any real direction. Falling off a cliff is easy to do and the overall design is very bland. The levels are a weak point for Dissidia, just not spectacular. The grid-based movement system requires some thinking and is well implemented and the menu’s feel ripped from the best Final Fantasy where gamers can level up, equip, etc.

Miscellaneous – Two very large items and they happen to be the reason to buy Dissidia. First the story, second the cast.

The story is simple, yet complicated. Simple in that it pits Cosmos against Chaos in an ever waging war. The scale tips to Chaos and his champions leaving Cosmos to call on her champions to pick up the slack. Complicated in the champions on both sides consist of goods and bads from Final Fantasy I-X and each has associations with other characters in each series, yeah it gets … interesting. The level of effort and detail put into this story blows away most collections like this and it gives gamers, especially FF fans, a deep reason to keep playing and leveling up. It’s not all about seeing each characters story but rather it feels more like playing another Kingdom Hearts type of RPG.

The cast of characters is great with Cloud, Tidus, Squall, Zidane over to Onion Knight, Cecil, Terra, and Bartz … and that’s just the good guys. Each game gets one main character, both good and bad, and for a series built on parties it’s a tough pill for characters missing, but there are cameos to make up for this fact. Seeing all these characters come together is made all the better by titles like Kingdom Hearts which pulled in familiar faces to unfamiliar places. Fans will dig the updated looks and interesting interactions, this fan did.

Overall, it’s tough to classify Dissidia: Final Fantasy. It’s a tribute to many great games and boasts an outstanding lineup of characters. The mish-mashed gameplay types works but may turn off fighting game fans while satisfying RPG’ers at the same time. Graphics and sound deliver as does the entire package. At the end of the day Final Fantasy fans need to own Dissidia as do most hard-core PSP gamers since it’s one of the systems most unique and enjoyable titles, not to mention it’s one of the most unique titles on any system right now.

Oh, and there are cards and a coliseum battle system, but really it’s icing on a pretty delicious cake.