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!