Koko ga Uwasa no El Palacio (Welcome to El Palacio)

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A guy wakes up having no idea who he is or where he is. A woman nearby named Ouka tells him that she saved him by pushing him out of the way of getting run over by a car, but in the fall he seems to have hit his head and lost his memory. Since he doesn’t know who he is or what to do with himself, Ouka says that since she did save his life, he should become her manservant and live with her, and gives him the name Tadasuke. With nowhere else to go he agrees. However, Ouka’s living place isn’t a normal house, but rather it’s a gym and boarding house for female wrestlers, El Palacio, with Ouka being the arrogant and aggressive ace of the team. The team also includes Mariko, who acts like a mother to the team but will be quite angry if you point that out due to her being very touchy about her age. There’s Hinata, the youngest member of the team and someone that’s earnest but very much still in training. There’s Kisaragi, or Bunny-chan, a girl that always wears a mask no matter what and is quite well beloved among children due to dressing up like a bunny while wrestling. There’s also Itsuka, a very laidback girl with most things that still tries her best while wrestling. Tadasuke gets heavily involved with this team, starting off as a housekeeper but eventually also becoming a referee, helping them as each member deals with various challenges, though still hoping that eventually his memory will come back.

***

This manga was off in that it’s about wrestling, and it serves as more than window dressing with it generally being the focus, but it didn’t really feel like it conveyed much about wrestling despite that. To start off for those that are not familiar, professional wrestling is mostly an act, with characters, plot lines, victories, etc. set up beforehand. That’s not a slight on wrestling, it would make as much sense to fault wrestling for this as it would to fault a play or movie for it. It’s just the way things are. Hence, I believe that there are two approaches to how to make something like a manga about this. One is that you can ignore that, and make a manga that’s actually about real wrestling but with the plot lines that are being acted out by wrestlers and basically having it be a sort of battle or combat sports manga. These are often really exaggerated and crazy with random twists and all sorts of shenanigans, and the manga could try to basically try to convey that atmosphere and tell a story kind of like that and make it seem real. The other is that it would take a step back and be about the actual wrestlers doing their part in acting and be more down to Earth, with it being more slice of life or something to that extent. This tried to take the middle path between both of these, wherein it kind of acknowledges that parts of it are fake and also for the most part has everything be real. For one thing, that doesn’t work, because trying to have extreme moments and then later reveal they’re predetermined just doesn’t make sense and really kind of seems contradictory at times. For another, I found it kind of annoying as well in that it then even goes to the point where it puts down things being pre-scripted, which I feel completely misses the point of professional wrestling completely. This combined with the fact that it didn’t really feel like the author knew much about wrestling in the first place, makes me kind of feel like the author wasn’t really much of a fan of professional wrestling in the first place, so I wonder why he’s making such a manga. Beyond that, there were some issues, but the plot overall was pretty solid. The characters are interesting enough and have reasonably fleshed out motivations and personalities. There was a major exception to that though, in that the final twist felt so incredibly forced and didn’t feel at all consistent with Ouka’s character or her relationship with Tadasuke at all. The comedy was pretty solid throughout and the action in and of itself was pretty cool. The art was also solid.

A manga about professional wrestling that doesn’t really get professional wrestling at all, but that is otherwise decent.

7/10 

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Kingdom Hearts III

kingdomhearts3

With the battle against Xehanort and the new Organization XIII looming, it is essential that the 7 guardians of light be assembled to defeat the 13 seekers of darkness. Sora needs to awaken Ventus, however, he was unable to gain the power of waking from his Mark of Mastery exam, rather he lost his other powers in the process, and hence he must journey trying to both gain back his old powers as well as to obtain the power of waking. While doing so, he decides to also search for a way to bring back Roxas. Meanwhile, Riku and Mickey journey to the dark world to try to save Aqua, though they are not immediately successful. While this happening, Kairi and Axel slowly undergo training to also become key blade wielders. However, while all of this occurring, Organization XIII isn’t merely sitting around watching, but executing plans of their own.

***

Kingdom Hearts 3 is the first console oriented entry Kingdom Hearts game in fourteen years, and as such expectations were high. Exceptionally high in fact, because while there hadn’t been a console title in quite a while, there had been a number of spin off titles, that certainly weren’t lacking in terms of story importance compared to the console titles. However, this would still be the first title using the base game play from the console titles in quite a while, and with the game play in the last title, Dream Drop Distance, being somewhat lacking, how the game would turn out was quite uncertain. Ultimately, I believe that KH3 is a really good game, though not quite as good as KH2FM, at least not yet, and hence considering all the hype built up may not be satisfying enough for many.

In terms of story, Kingdom Hearts has been about adventuring through Disney worlds while an overarching story plays in the background. Firstly, focusing on the Disney worlds, I thought they were mostly good in terms of plot and atmosphere in terms of hitting emotional beats with those that love the original films, and with a lot of variety, though because of how varied they are they are also quite decisive.  Hercules’s Olympus was fine as a Disney world focusing on helping people in a single location and then going on a journey to stop enemies, but felt kind of weak as a starting world, wherein an original world would have worked much better as was the case with all the previous games. The Toy Story World had great atmosphere and the story was good, being centered around exploring a single location searching for others, though it became a pain game play wise because it was so centered around the mechanic of robot fights which got super old super quickly. Tangled’s Corona was a great journey story where Repunzel really shined. Monsters Inc’s Monstopolis certainly had a lot of great moments, but felt lacking atmosphere wise in that it didn’t feel like it had enough soft moments, just tension all the way through. Frozen’s Arendelle is like a journey story, though unfortunately one on repeat with everything beyond the labyrinth looking similar, so it ended up dragged on a bit. Pirates of the Carribean’s world is an open world game in and of itself which is both loved and hated by many. Big Hero Six’s Sanfransokyo was a great sandbox, though the story didn’t really give you enough time to explore it. Winnie the Pooh’s Hundred Acre Wood felt really lacking though, in that it only requires one visit that has only one location and three variants of the same mini-game. As a general note though, the game relies heavily on the player having some sort of connection to the films. A lot of the stories simply don’t make sense unless you’ve seen the film and know what’s happening in the background as a lot isn’t shown. But even in cases where that isn’t the case, it still heavily relies on call backs and some emotional attachment to the characters and world. Focusing heavily on that allows the use of such to be really amazingly well done and quite impactful, though of course on the flip side that means that in the case where one does not care for the film it simply doesn’t have any impact whatsoever.

In terms of the overarching story, it is almost entirely relegated to the finale, as in you play through the Disney part for about 25 hours, and then get about 5 hours where the main story matters. This divide has both benefits and drawbacks. The first is that for the entirety of the Disney portion, it doesn’t really feel like any progress is being made at all. Sora is going through various worlds, but the story doesn’t establish why he’s doing so instead of focusing more on more pressing problems. The Organization is involved in these worlds to varying degrees, but they’re usually doing random things so even when Sora opposes them, it doesn’t feel like its tying into the overarching narrative. The plus side of this however, is that once the story gets going, it gets going to a crazy degree, moving incredibly fast with one crazy moment after the other and the story being blasted through with not a moment to breath, which is pretty awesome. Now as for the quality of the narrative itself, it’s complicated. There’s a ridiculous web of plot threads building up to this game that are incredibly difficult to navigate. The game doesn’t try to deal with everything perfectly and make everything completely consistent. Rather, it focuses on giving the core plot threads that are character oriented have a strong pay off. So even when it has to be completely forced and move heaven and Earth to do so, it makes sure to do right and finish a lot of character’s stories really well in an incredibly emotional way. Though as stated, this results in a lack of consistency that makes things very confusing at times. Hence, if one has an attachment to these characters they may be willing to overlook the plot being pretty random and strangely paced, but in the case that they’re not, then the plot may just seem like a mess. Furthermore, while this is the end of the Xehanort Saga, it also leaves quite a bit of hinting and such about where future titles may go, and while everything related to the Xehanort Saga can be understood from things released on PS4, the hinting about what will happen afterwards heavily relies on an understanding of Union X, both of which can make things seem even more confusing and random. As another note, because the main story was so end heavy, there was no focus on original worlds other than the ending. In terms of an original hub world, the closest thing is Twilight Town, but that’s incredibly tiny and only really requites one visit, which felt like a major waste and was incredibly disappointing. They also chose to completely drop the Final Fantasy characters entirely, as the only place they would make much sense is in such a hub world, which is also disappointing.

In terms of game play, it’s a lot like the game play from Kingdom Hearts 2, but with the form changes and shotlock out of Birth by Sleep based on the key blade being used and flow motion similar to but not as broken as in Dream Drop Distance and a few extra mechanics like grand magic out of 0.2 as well as attractions which are like summons but pop up randomly based on hitting certain enemies. There’s a crazy amount of systems to this game while results in combat in general being flashy, satisfying, and flexible. However, the issue is that it doesn’t feel balanced for offering so much. If you actually use everything available, the game is far too easy. The in-built restricter, “No EXP”, doesn’t really lead to a good experience either, as enemies scale badly in terms of having too much health. In order to feel like the games a proper challenge, you need to put arbitrary restrictions on yourself, like not using any rides, only using Kingdom Key, and not eating any food. Still, the enemies were well designed, especially the myriad of boss fights at the end which if better fleshed out as 1v1s may well be KH2FM data replica levels of amazing. But as of yet, as this is only the vanilla release, there isn’t any such content. Though even for a vanilla release, this felt lacking in terms of post game combat content. There’s a myriad of mini-games that range from decent to great, and the most fleshed out Gummi Ship mode, which can be a pain at times due to how some bosses have ridiculous amounts of health, but other than that is the best in the series, so in that sense it probably has the most content of any vanilla release, but in terms of combat content, there’s only fourteen extra battles of which one is a fairly solid secret boss. There’s no coliseum mode or boss replays or anything like that. Hence, it felt somewhat lacking in terms of its core. In addition to that, there’s of course chests to find as always, though due to the enormous scale of the worlds and how the chests appear in a pretty random order it is a lot harder to find them, and it really felt like the journal should have been more compartmentalized in terms of chest locations. There’s also what are called lucky emblems to search for, which are Mickey emblems scattered throughout the worlds that need to be taken picture of, though to be honest these too felt pretty annoying, especially compared to finding puzzle pieces and stickers in previous games. Lastly, synthesis is once again in this game, though simpler than it was in KH2, and allows the creation of Ultima in a way that requires going through most of the mini-game content, which is a good way to wrap everything together. All in all it’s a very good base, but it really needs an equivalent of a Final Mix that adds the more difficult Critical Mode difficulty as well as adding more combat oriented post game content designed for max level in order to become amazing.

In terms of graphics, it was really good. There was a lot of variety to the art styles and the game looked great in all of them. The CG was also generally pretty great, though not as good as Visual Works generally is, but considering it was in engine and there was a lot more of it I suppose that’s fine, though the opening felt like it was a bit weak compared to 0.2.  The soundtrack was also really solid. There was an overuse of past tracks but not as many great new tracks, but the remixes of old tracks were generally better than past versions, and the use of Disney music was great as well, though the lack of “He’s a Pirate” was disappointing. The opening theme I wasn’t that fond of, though I did really like the ending theme.

A game that very messy in terms of story, but that hits all the emotional beats it needs to from a fans point of view, and game play that has a lot of potential and is fun but needs a bit more in order to become amazing.

8/10

Here’s to hoping that Re:Mind is great.

Durarara!!x2

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Following the end of the conflict between the Yellow Scarves and the Dollars, a distance formed between Mikado, Kida, and Anri. Kida quit school and left Ikebukuro, while Mikado and Anri kept each other at somewhat of a distance, promising to come clean about their secrets once Kida returned. However, the city of Ikebukuro isn’t simply waiting for this to happen. A serial killer dubbed Hollywood seems to be on the loose, one that establishes a connection with  Shizuo’s brother. Two Russian assassin’s, Vorone and Slon, that have history with Simone also arrive to the city, having fled their organization and looking for work. The Yakuza of the Awakusu clan are also active, particularly in regards to searching for the head’s granddaughter, Akane, who ran away from home. A segment of the Dollars being led by a boy named Aoba Kuronuma seems to have gone to another city and declared war on the controlling gang as part of some grand plan, and said gang being led by the womanizing but powerful Chikage Rokujou want revenge. All the while, while Celty may have given up on searching for her head, others haven’t, including a man named Jinnai Yodogiri accompanied by his secretary, Kasane Kujiragi, a woman that also seems to have the power to wield Saika. And of course, standing behind all of this, watching and manipulating things from the shadows is Izaya, with a plan of his own.

***

Durarara!!x2 is composed of three cours, each with its own name, but they all tie into the same story, especially the second and third cours which are part of the same arc even, so it feels like the separation has more to do with the pace at which the studio was able to output rather than actual content, and hence it makes the most sense to talk about the whole series holistically.

This series very much tries to continue in the spirit of it’s predecessor. What I mean by that is that the show is at its best when it feels like its a social Ruth Goldberg machine with people’s motivation and actions crisscrossing in unexpected ways in part due to the limited information they all possess and producing crazy but amazing results. And this very much does try to do that, but with an even larger cast and increasingly complex plot. But a part of this working well is that it needs to be moving at a fast pace and those motivations and actions, or rather the effects of those actions, need to be really clearly shown to the viewer. The first cour of this series did well in that regard, with things building up to crazy things happening and it all seeming amazing as it should. But as it went past the first cour,  it got overtly complicated. There were very strange problems with pacing. At the same time that it felt like it needed more buildup as it hadn’t built things up well enough for the finale, it also felt like it needed to get to the point and move faster. The motivations and connections were getting too complex for the amount of time it had and the type of show it is, wherein even though it spent two cours building up to the grand finale, it ultimately never quite felt like the amazement inducing clockwork that it should. It really felt like it was creaking under it’s cast of too many characters. As for the characters themselves, they’re are all really solid, including most of the new characters, though there were some exceptions such as Aoba who in the end doesn’t seem to have actually done anything and Mikage who’s motivations never become clear. But even with most of the characters being solid, other than Celty and Shinra it didn’t really feel like any of  their stories reached a proper resolution, which felt somewhat disappointing considering how much development was given to each character. Celty and Shinra’s plot thread and relationship is definitely the most amazing part of the show though, and also the only thing that seems to connect and pervade through everything other than Izaya, so to that end I would even consider her the main character. But I still would have liked to see more of a proper ending for the other characters.

The animation and art were pretty solid in all of them. The soundtrack was also solid and fitting. The atmosphere in general doesn’t hold as strong of an edge though, in part due to it being gotten used to, but that actually feels like it reinforces a larger theme of the show, so that works surprisingly well. The OPs were all good both in terms of visuals and audio and I still really like how they insert a recap in the middle of them. The first two EDs were good too, but I thought the third was weak.

A continuation of Durarara that embodies the same spirit and high quality at a more ambitious larger scale, but is nevertheless hindered by the over encompassing scale.

8/10

 

 

 

Sanoba Witch (Sabbat of the Witch)

sanobawitch

Hoshina Shuuji is second year in high school that has always had the strange ability of being able to perceive others emotions as physical sensations, with those emotions directed at him being perceived most strongly. However, that’s far from a good thing because it isn’t all that useful most of the time, and furthermore negative emotions often come through as pain or other incredibly unpleasant feelings. Hence, he’s done his absolute best not to get on anyone’s bad side, and in doing so has also not got on anyone’s good side either. The end result is that he is a major loner with only two that could even be seen as close to being his friends, Kariya and Kaidou, but he’s not all that close to them either. It also means that he can’t refuse anyone’s arbitrary requests because that may result in him getting on their bad side. Hence, while doing some random job that he wasn’t able to refuse he finds himself alone in the library. It is at this point a second year girl named Ayachi Nene walks in and begins pleasuring herself not noticing he’s there. It turns out she’s not a complete pervert, or at least that’s not the reason she was there in that particular situation, but rather because she’s a witch. The way witchcraft works is that a witch makes a wish. At that point, they need to collect heart fragments, something produced when one has really strong emotions, in order to magically grant their wish. However, until they do, they’re hit with a penalty, which in Ayachi’s case is random uncontrollable arousal that doesn’t go away until dealt with. But while finding this out, Shuuji ends up accidentally absorbing all of Ayachi’s heart fragments. It turns out that he has a hole in his heart due to the trauma from his ability, and so they just naturally went into him. This is a major problem for her, as she definitely doesn’t want to begin gathering all the fragments from the beginning and continue dealing with her penalty. Thankfully, it turns out that if the hole in his heart is filled, they fragments will return to Ayachi. Shuuji is unsure of how to fill in the hole in his heart, but ultimately decides to join the Occult Club. The Occult Club is a club that does standard occult stuff like card readings and such, but mainly is dedicated to providing a place from which Ayachi can help others with their problems, which results in them gaining great happiness, from which Ayachi can take a heart fragment. Shuuji hopes that in helping her do this, he’ll begin to change as well.

The Occult Club helps a number of people. There’s the first year, Inaba Meguru, a girl that looks really stylish and outgoing, but that really is mostly an otaku that is desperately trying to find a way to become popular. There’s Shiiba Tsumugi, a girl that’s really kind but is facing the strange problem that she begins puking if she acts too girly despite really wanting to. There’s also the third year Togakushi Touko, a girl that’s constantly teasing and mischievous but is also very competent in that she’s the student council president, though she’s having a hard time finding someone to take her place. While helping out all of them as well as many others, Shuuji begins to grow, with the hole in his heart healing as well.

***

Sanoba Witch is structured in a pretty standard way for the most part, with a common route with multiple choices that branches out into four main routes and a side route based on what choices were made. In the middle of this is an anime style OP that’s really well done. The common route does a pretty good job at introducing the various characters and mechanics of the world, though not much happens beyond that with most of the stories of them helping others being pretty basic. The exception to that is Koshiji’s story which was really solid. As for the main routes, in the order I did them:

Togakushi Touko’s route was strange in that it felt like it had a lot of plot, but it didn’t really feel like there was much of a point to that plot in terms of character and relationship development. There’s no central emotional problem that Touko is facing, other than the one that’s forced on her as a result of the plot with overcoming it basically just being returning to the status quo from before her route. As a result, Touko didn’t feel all that developed. She’s a hilarious character with the way she innocently talks about super perverted things and how amusing she is makes her likable. But it didn’t feel like she has much depth in terms of character, just a lot of pointless background. The plot itself is reasonably interesting with the slow reveal of this background, but after that actually dealing with the problem was pretty random. This combined with the fact that Touko’s character arc felt weak and she’s didn’t really grow, just that Shuuji simply saved her, made the big emotionally impactful ending… not that impactful. Still, even with the weak plot, there were a lot of amusing moments which I quite liked, but I thought that the more serious aspects to the story were pretty weak. Her ED was solid enough, both visually and in terms of song. Her theme, Midday Star, is decent.

Inaba Meguru’s route is centered around her being incredibly afraid of not really understanding other’s opinion of her and why she came to be that way. This begins with Shuuji helping her deal with the trauma that caused this. But interestingly enough, this was just the launch pad for the rest of the story, wherein she doesn’t overcome that immediately but over the course of the rest of the route. I thought that was interesting, because it breaks form the norm of things being completely fixed when a major event like that happens. The rest of the route is centered around Inaba being in love with Shuuji but not knowing how to express it, and Shuuji similarly being terrible at communicating, though they eventually do begin going out and work through their relationship. There were a lot of amusing and adorable moments mostly centered around how cute and clingy Inaba is, but largely it felt like everything dragged on too long and didn’t have enough substance in the latter half. The ED was decent. Her theme, Real Friend, is really catchy.

Kariya Wakana’s route is a side route that’s mostly centered around her past with Shuuji. The route is pretty different from the other routes in that it’s a lot shorter and breaks off at a different time from all the others. All in all, there wasn’t a lot to this route. It was straight forward and relatively simple. Still, going in depth into Shuuji’s past was very much appreciated. I also think Wakana and Shuuji had great chemistry and Wakana is hilarious. She’s pretty feisty so that contrasts well with her being cute. The ED was solid. Her theme, Little Guitarist, is a great track.

Shiiba Tsumugi’s route is centered just as much on her alp Akagi, who is basically her witch contractor, as it is is Tsumugi. Ultimately, it didn’t feel all that much like Shuuji or Tsumugi grew, though their relationship certainly did. Rather, the route was more focused on them dealing with various external problems that affected them rather than internal problems that stem from within them. On the other hand, Akagi  actually did go through a lot of growth in learning what emotions are and what sort of connections people have. The writing and flow overall felt like a vast improvement over the other routes. There was actually conflict in this one and even somewhat of a villain. The romance was decent enough, wherein the whole teddy bear story was awkward at first, but really helped develop a lot of things, like Shuuji’s father, really well. Shiiba herself is incredibly adorable due to how kind she is, which made her likable. Most of the amusement this route came from Shuuji teasing her, or Akagi being random. The ED was decent. I’m not sure what her theme is, so I don’t think its particularly memorable.

Ayachi Nene’s route feels like the main route to me because it felt longer and with more substance. Ayachi herself is  very calm and collected, except when she’s not and then she’s absolutely not, being either panicked or depressed, which is a funny dynamic, especially due to her interesting expressions and also the fact that she’s a pervert. She doesn’t really have any sort of internal issue for the first half of her route, however, a major problem related to her wish catches up with her and causes the route to end in a really impactful way, nakige style. Though I should note that the catch to Ayacchi’s wish was incredibly obvious from the outset, so I found it strange that they didn’t realize it for so long. This first half also felt like it went on too long, in that after the climax it just felt sort of depressing and unneeded. After that is where the substance of the route starts, in that it involves time travel and basically going back in time to before the route even begins. We get to see Ayachi essentially develop the problem she’ll need to face from her perspective in this phase. And then we switch back to Shuuji right at the beginning of where the VN begins, though obviously proceeding from that in a very different way. Still, it overall was written pretty well, and I quite liked the concept of it with it leading right up back to the beginning. Seeing the changed world and changed Nene from Shuuji’s perspective without him actually knowing it’s changed and somewhat confused was really interesting and also kind of hilarious. And also sad. I actually expected it to conclude upon the climax of the romance, but that was just the launchpad for the rest of the route relating to Ayachi’s character development and Shuuji helping her deal with the problem for a pretty impactful ending. The various timeline/memory related hijinks that ensured were also really amusing. Of especial note were the reactions to Shuuji and Nene dating due to how it was instantaneous without any warning in this timeline. Her ED was great. Her theme Sweet Treasure, I think, was also solid.

As for some general comments, there’s a lot of talk  about how Shuuji’s grown, but we don’t spend enough time with the old him to really see that rather than just hearing it. There’s some events that occur during the various routes that help with that, but it felt like there should have been more in the common route. We get to see him become noticeably more happy after getting a girlfriend, but that’s a different thing from growth. I also liked him getting used to and accepting his power, which I prefer over just losing it, which was kind of weak since it just sort of randomly happened at times and made his development in those routes a lot worse. Also, it’s kind of weird how his powers don’t really manifest that much. They should be more omnipresent in his internal thoughts. There are some definite instances where it feels weird they aren’t brought up. Also, moral of the story is not to make magical contracts. The price is always too much, it always ends really badly, and you can’t even change your mind once you make a wish. Honestly, considering it always works out so badly, are Alps universally bad for going through with them? Though maybe it was worth it for Shuuji’s mom. But really in general, the magic and systems didn’t feel all that thought out.

The art was great. The animation and effects were a lot more than most VNs and used really well. The soundtrack was also really good. The comedy needed a bit more oomph in that there was not enough and not enough variety. In general the writing was good but some parts felt overtly melodramatic and repetitive so it felt like things were dragging on too long at times. The 3D in the movies was bad. Having a date/day of the week during transitions would have helped a a lot in terms of giving the player bearings.

A VN with very variable  quality across routes and some persistent issues, but that overall is really solid.

8/10

Heroines:

Nene > Meguru > Tsumugi > Wakana > Touka

Routes:

Nene > Tsumugi > Meguru > Touka > Wakana

Final Fantasy Type-0 HD

finalfantasytype0hd

Orience is a land who’s core aspect are four Crystals. These Crystals are the foundation for each of Oreince’s four nations, with the Crystals serving as the core of society, whether that be through magic or technology. These Crystals also affect each individual citizen in a multitude of ways, such as taking away the memories of anyone that dies. Hence, it should not be a surprise that such powerful objects can lead to war. The Milites Empire that controls the White Tiger Crystal under the rule of Marshal Cid Aulstyne begins their invasion of the other nations. With their technology they believe that they can easily subdue each of the nations. For example, with the Dominion of Rubrum that controls the Vermillion Bird Crystal that serves as the basis of providing it’s citizens with the ability to use magic abilities, they use a jammer to counteract the power of the Crystal, and hence leave them defenseless. Or at least, that’s what they expected. A special team known as Class Zero clad in red capes are able to use their abilities independent of the Crystal, and furthermore are a force to be reckoned with. They turn the tide of battle in the initial battle. But who are class zero? They are an elite group of 12 students under the guardianship of Arecia Al-Rashia, whom they refer to as mother. They have a very wide range of personalities, from the calm and collected Queen to the jokester Jack to the know it all Trey.  Why they’re so powerful and how they’re able to use their powers is a mystery only Al-Rashia fully understands, but its something that scares other powerful figures in Rubrum. Hence, two students are added into the group, Machina and Rem, to spy on them, both of whom have history with each other, and the former of which seems to have one with Ace as well. They are also given the commanding officer Kurasame. Under such conditions, they serve as a core part of the war effort, and hence feel the brunt of the effects of the war in numerous ways. However, all of this is building up to what is known as Tempus Finis, which is where Class Zero’s true destiny lies.

***

Final Fantasy Type-0 has a strange history. It was originally conceived as Final Fantasy Agito XIII as it was part of the Fabula Nova Crystallis mythology sub-series and was supposed to be a mobile game. But it seemed the scale became too large for what mobile games could handle at the time, so it ended up becoming a PSP game. Also, at some point the name changed to Type-0. The game was released on PSP in Japan, but they were dead silent about it coming to the west, likely because by the time they’d be able to localize it it’d be too late for PSP releases considering the Vita was already out. Still, fans were quite local about wanting it and raised their voices asking for a Vita port and English release. Three years later, their cries were answered and Square Enix announced an HD remaster was coming to the west, except not on Vita. It was remastered into a full console game interestingly enough though they ended up dropping some features such as multiplayer that were based around local use of handhelds. Hence, what was originally conceived as a mobile title came out 10 years later in the west as a PS4 title. Hence, it probably shouldn’t come as a surprise that the game is quite strange in a number of ways.

The core combat was pretty solid. It was pretty simple at it’s core, having a different ability assigned to each face button with some special abilities other than that. However, what prevented this simplicity from becoming an issue was that it was incredibly active even for an action RPG, relying heavily on quick movement and dodging, and hence feeling quite intense. It also featured a large cast of characters you would constantly be switching between that all played quite a bit differently, hence preventing things from getting repetitive. Because of this, the simplicity becomes an asset as if it were too complex having so many characters may have been daunting. Still I think figuring out move sets for the various characters was more complicated than it needed to be and it should have provided some level of tutorial or such. Combat missions are done in groups of three active members with one controlled by the player and two by AI, wherein if a member dies then reserve members can be called in to replace them. An issue with that though is that there is no party control at all, which is incredibly peculiar for an action RPG. The AI will do what it wants and you can not modify their behavior at all, and to be frank the AI is pretty terrible hence requiring the main player to do all the work. This isn’t that much of a problem, as the game feels balanced well enough in terms of playing with a single character, but you need to have multiple characters for XP purposes to keep them all at a high enough level so that you have a set of reserve members and hence need to deal with them being dumb and dying a lot. Also, as a general note it did feel like there wasn’t enough variety in terms of enemies and definitely not enough bosses. The final boss was pretty amazing though. In terms of character growth, it was mostly pretty standard for a RPG, though how few equipment there was was was interesting. Upgrading spells was kind of annoying though. Well, upgrading them itself was fine, involving spending Phantoma which is obtained by defeating enemies. However, in order to get Phantoma, it required not just to defeat enemies, but to manually collect it which required staying still for a second, and doing so before they disappear. The problem with that is that you need to be locked on to the enemy in order to do so, and you can’t switch back to locking on to a defeated enemy. Furthermore, being defenseless in the middle of battle is annoying and it also just breaks the flow. It makes a lot of sense and is important story wise and to the final boss, but overall I didn’t like the system much.

There were essentially two types of missions. The first were the standard missions, where you control the characters as they fight through large amounts of enemies to go from location to location in order to reach objectives. There was what’s known as Special Order’s during these, which are like special requirements that are placed on you that if you acheive you gain something, but if you fail at you lose a character. I thought that these were too much of a pain to bother with considering they never really gave anything good. The other types of missions were siege missions. These involved running around the world map supporting the Rubrum army as they took over towns. These missions were pretty terrible and took out a lot of what made the core combat great, such as being unable to dodge almost all attacks, and didn’t really involve any strategy at all. They were annoying though in that it felt like it was really easy to screw sometimes by missing something.

Beyond that while not in story missions, you can control your character to explore the academy, talk to people, and perform side quests known as Tasks. An issue that I have with this is that there’s a limit on how much you can do between story missions. I in general really hate arbitrary restrictions in terms of time, wherein if it’s something like Persona where you have to make choices about what you want to do which actually impacts game play but you can optimize into being able to do pretty much everything that’s fine. However, here it’s impossible to do everything in a single play through and that’s really the only purpose of the time restrictions as it has very little impact on game play, and thus it feels like the entire purpose of these restrictions is to try to push a second play through, which I didn’t do because I don’t think the game play holds up well enough for that. Maybe if they kept the multiplayer it would be worth it while playing co-op, but as it is it was not something I thought was worth it. That really annoyed me, but I think I did manage to get all the major side content I wanted to get to. There wasn’t that much to most of the side content though. It was pretty good in terms of character events and there were some interesting story lines in that regard, but in terms of actual side quests with objectives they were really boring, being standard fetch of kill quests. Furthermore, being unable to accept more than one task at a time was immensely annoying. Also, while getting around the overworld on a Chocobo was cool enough, being unable to run from random battles and there being random enemies at max level scattered around the map that are impossible to fight was a terrible combination.

In terms of the story, it’s kind of strange. To some extent it was very character focused, with Class Zero’s relationships amongst each other and other characters and the effects the war has on them being the highlight, but at the same time, it didn’t feel like there was a lot of substance there. The characters all have unique personalities, but it didn’t feel like any of them really got fleshed out. Rather, for a story centered around a group of friends the development of each character and development of them as a solid group of friends was rather weak. Still, they do have strong personalities with enough variety to them that there should be someone that everyone is fond of, and hence it’s pretty easy to get invested in the group overall despite the shortcomings, though it does leave you wanting more. The same applies to the side characters, wherein there were certainly some unique characters, but not much to them.

As for the plot, it was all sorts of crazy. For 7/8 chapters, it’s a pretty standard war story. There’s a bit of teasing of grand things going on in the background, but for the most part it’s just focused on the war itself with some story elements related to that, such as politics, conspiracies, public opinion, etc. It was for the most part just straightforwardly fighting a war, with the perspective of those fighting in the war and the effect on them as the focus. It wasn’t an amazing story, but it was solid enough to support everything else. There were also some interesting mechanics here such as losing the memories of those that died, though as you would expect this is a pretty strange concept and pretty hard to write around, so it shouldn’t be too much of a surprise that it felt incredibly inconsistent. This inconsistency was most prominent in Aria’s final scene, which on top of feeling like it had no point other than to make the player feel downright awful, also made the memory mechanic feel completely dumb to the point it made me question how the world could function at all.

***SPOILERS***

Then suddenly it hits chapter 8 and the end of the world begins and all sorts of crazy things start happening, and they happen way too fast without enough explanation. Considering this is part of Fabula Nova Chrstalis, that’s should have been expected, though that it took this long for it to reach that point is actually kind of surprising and actually did make it surprising when it happened. And in the end that I think was the biggest problem with the story. With FFXIII, since it was crazy and made no sense from the outset, even though the ending was bad I didn’t even care because I didn’t really care all that much about the characters. Here, I cared enough about the characters enough to care about them being given a good ending, and this didn’t do it at all, so I actually disliked the ending more than I did with FFXIII. I am not opposed to an ending where everyone dies, but there were two major problems with how it was handled here. The first is, though the ending relied heavily on their bonds as a group to bring some happiness to them in their final moments, I don’t think they did enough to establish those in the narrative of the game. They did enough to make them likable characters, but not enough to make that ending of them being together be as impactful as it needed to be to be worth it. And the second, and more important, is that they didn’t establish strongly enough why they had to die. If it was made clear why they had to die and were dying, and why they made the choice to do so, and everything surrounding that was better established, it would properly give their deaths meaning, and thus give the ending more meaning, and hence give it more more feeling, a feeling that was bittersweet, but a solid feeling nevertheless. This wasn’t the case here. It felt like they were dying arbitrarily, and the only feeling I was left with was that I didn’t want them to die, and hence the only feeling I was left with was sadness and not in a good way. And I have not the faintest clue what to feel or think about the hidden, maybe not even cannon, ending. I am in general a very ending focused person when it comes to the plot, and here due to how different the ending was from the rest of the game it felt like it carried even more weight, and hence even though most of the story was fine, I can’t say I’m fond of the story overall.

The graphics were weird. This is an enhanced PSP port. Some parts got fully enhanced and looked good even for a PS4 game. Others aspects looked pretty much like a PSP game. The parts that were enhanced, mainly the main cast, looked really good, as the character designs were always great and the model quality was now amazing. And the engine improvements such as lighting and blur did help hide the bad environmental assets most of the time. But there were certain scenes that looked really awkward. For example, scenes with both a main character and a non-improved character, so scenes where a good looking character that has more polygons in their mouth than the character they’re conversing with has overall, just looked really strange. Also, the game made extensive use of pre-rendered cut-scenes, though only the opening and ending were true cinematic quality. The rest seemed to be recordings with PSP level assets at higher resolution. And these weren’t redone so the real-time cut-scenes and graphics were actually usually better than these, which was strange. Hence, overall the graphics were incredibly uneven. The soundtrack was also kind of strange in that it had a number of really amazing tracks, some of the best in Final Fantasy even, but it didn’t feel like it had enough, relying on those and variants of those extensively, and hence it felt like it got kind of repetitive.

A game that has good aspects in terms of every category but also major issues plaguing each category.

7/10

Durarara!!

durarara

Mikado Ryuugamine leaves his rural home behind for the first time and decides to attend high school in Ikebukuro, upon being persuaded by his childhood friend, Masaomi Kida, who he had moved there earlier but kept in contact with him through the internet. He is very much out of his element when it comes to city life and also quite shy, but with the help of Masaomi who is the complete opposite in terms of both of these aspects he slowly comes to get used to it. He even becomes friends with and develops a crush on a girl named Anri Sonohara, who often acts aloof, but becomes a strong third in the now trio of close friends. However, Ikebukuro has quite a bit going on under the surface. Due to a number of elements ranging from larger than life people such as Shizuo Heiwajima, a man with inhumane strength that is very quick to anger, or his hated enemy, Izaya Orihara, a man with an unreasonable level of intellect that enjoys manipulating people into extreme situations, to gangs such as the mysterious Dollars or the regrouping Yellow Scarves, to even fantastical legends, such as a headless biker named Celty searching for her head or the serial slasher wielding a magical katana, the entirety of a Ikebukuro is a time bomb just waiting to go off. And furthermore, the three Mikado, Masaomi, and Anri aren’t simply bystanders to this conflict, rather the three are deeply entwined with it, each in a completely different way.

***

This is a pretty well crafted tale of a pretty large number of characters. While there certainly is a set of main characters, there are a pretty large number of characters besides them that are similarly important and also get solid development. The way the story is structured is that each of the three friends, Mikado, Masaomi, and Anri are shown as having secret lives essentially. While the three became close friends in high school, each has a past that the others know nothing about. Each of their pasts ties them into the conflict brewing. But at the same time, because each of them thinks that the others have nothing to do with the conflict, they hide this connection from the others in order to protect them. As a result, we have the three friends in conflict with each other without really knowing it. The plot deals with a number of threads, but for the most part they all revolve around this and slowly build up to them finally fully facing each other, which it handles pretty well. Now, set around this conflict is all the side characters, who end up establishing relationships with each of the main characters in varying contexts, hence creating situations where they are secretly connected to multiple of the three and knowing of their place in the conflict, but keeping it a secret from the others, creating a very interesting web of people and connections. This cast of side characters each has their own motivations and personalities which are the base for actions that end up having a significant impact on the plot. There’s a lot there and ultimately it comes together incredibly well. That said, there were some issues. Because there are so many characters with the perspective constantly shifting, the story is told in a really disjointed way. There are parts that feel like they were rushed or skipped over that feel like they could be important. There are also parts that are essentially repeated from multiple perspectives to a degree that seems unnecessary, resulting in the show feeling really slow at times. I understand that there was really no way for such a story to be told without doing something like this to some degree, but even if it is inherent it still felt somewhat annoying at times.

In terms of art style it is really solid and the city has a very unique yellowish and dark look to it that comes across quite well. The animation is solid. The music is pretty unique and also works well with the atmosphere. Both OPs were good, and having them include a recap in the middle of the OP worked tremendously well. The first ED was great though the second was only okay.

An interesting character focused story that though somewhat messily put together, comes together quite well nevertheless.

8/10

This is actually the second time I’m watching this. But I hadn’t seen the following seasons and didn’t remember this well enough considering all the characters involved so I decided to re-watch it before moving to the sequels.

Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony

danganronpav3

Fifteen students wake up at the Ultimate Academy for Gifted Juveniles. However, this isn’t anywhere near a normal school. There are various strange elements to it, such as it being overgrown and partly under construction, but what’s most strange and the largest issue for these students is that it is completely surrounded by what is called the End Wall, a wall they are unable to escape from. These 15 students were brought to this academy against their will by Monokuma and his Monokubs, and the only way to escape is by taking part in the killing game and killing another participant without being caught.

The 15 participants are: Akamatsu Kaede, the Ultimate Pianist, a kind girl who always takes an optimistic view in order to keep moving forward; Saihara Shūichi, the Ultimate Detective, a boy that though skilled is greatly lacking confidence; K1-B0, also known as Keebo, the Ultimate Robot, though one that hates sci-fi and has abilities below average when compared to humans; Harukawa Maki, the Ultimate Caregiver, a girl that is incredibly standoffish and aloof contrary to what you’d expect of her talent; Momota Kaito, the Ultimate Astronaut, a boy that believes strongly in himself and others and vocalizes this confidence to such degrees it is ridiculous at times; Yumeno Himiko, the Ultimate Magician, a girl that is incredibly lazy and is adamant she is not performing tricks but performing true magic; Amami Rantaro, a boy who’s memory of his talent was wiped, which combined with how he hides his true emotions makes him very mysterious; Hoshi Ryoma, the Ultimate Tennis Player, a boy that now seems to have very little hope left in life after he had to give up tennis and go to prison; Tojo Kirumi, the Ultimate Maid, a girl that embodies selfless devotion in every way; Yonaga Anjī, the Ultimate Artist, a girl that seems very cheerful but is also quite the religious fanatic; Chabashira Tenko, the Ultimate Akido Master, a girl that has an obsessive hatred of men causing her to behave incredibly strangely; Shinguji Korekiyo, the Ultimate Anthropologist, a boy that that gives off a very dangerous vibe and also seems to be very in tune with the occult; Iruma Miu, the Ultimate Inventor, a narcissistic girl who under a sadistic and vulgar personality is actually rather meek; Gokuhara Gonta, the Ultimate Entomologist, a boy who was raised in the wilderness but is now on a quest to prove himself a gentleman; Oma Kokichi, the Ultimate Supreme Leader, a boy no can seem to quite get a hold on due to how most everything that comes out of his mouth being a lie; and Shirogane Tsumugi, the Ultimate Cosplayer, who seems to have a complex about how plain she is.

Under the harsh conditions of the killing game, the 15 are forced to confront each other, leading to both friendships and conflicts, as they slowly unravel why they’re there and the purpose of the killing game.

***

Danganronpa V3 is somewhat of a reboot for the series, though as you would expect of the franchise, nothing is as simple as it may seem. Still, it is undeniable that it is a very different game from it’s predecessors.

First off, an area that is largely pretty similar to past entries is the cases themselves, which were all really solid with good tricks and a good deal of complexity that slowly unraveled in a reasonable manner for the most part. There were some very interesting twists in a couple of the cases, but that’s to be expected, so overall they were what I expected for the most part based on past entries, meaning high quality. In terms of the cast of characters, it felt quite a bit different from it’s predecessors. The characters for the most part felt more exaggerated and unrealistic compared to it’s predecessors, which may seem like a strange thing to say considering the cast in past games was never really known for being down to earth or realistic, but it comes through here to a much greater degree. That’s not to say the character cast isn’t great, as though I would put it below past entries I would still say it was really solid. Each character has a unique personality with various quirks and flaws that shines quite brightly, too brightly at times. It makes sense why that is eventually, even if it does feel a bit strange at first, so it’s not a problem, but it does make everything flow quite differently. Characters seem to get along well less than they did in past entries. Though there certainly are still friendships and relationships that form, it felt less like the mostly cohesive group from past entries. But that’s to be expected in that while essentially all the important characters in past entries were portrayed as good people, this definitely isn’t the case here, wherein even beyond the context of the death game some are simply really unlikable and intended to be that way.

In addition to the characters themselves, another reason it felt like a less connected cast was due to the pacing. It felt much faster paced as compared to the previous entries with less time to breath between murders. Rather than a few small moments, there really wasn’t much in terms of them simply relaxing as generally occurred between cases in past entries. The end result was that the feeling of oppression was much stronger, for better or worse. It also felt like it was giving much more emphasis to the overarching story. Now that’s where things get complicated. The overarching story, particularly how it ends, was incredibly controversial. And this isn’t unwarranted controversy, but rather they did something quite extreme to the point its very clear they knew what they were doing and how large of a reaction it would create. And that they pushed forward with that rather than playing it safe is something I definitely respect them for. To put it lightly, the story goes in one direction, but ends in a completely different one, that puts into question the entire point of not just the story of Danganronpa V3, but of the Danganronpa franchise itself, completely flipping the script compared to past entries. It’s a meta-analysis of fiction itself in a way, and goes absolutely crazy on that. There are twists, especially the final one, all of which provide a million different reasons to hate the ending. And though I think there were problems, such as that it dragged on a bit too long and had a few too many gimmicks, and though ultimately I’m not overtly fond of one of the core points being made regarding hope and despair, but rather disagree with it entirely really, it presents that point in an incredibly well told manner, and in a broader sense I appreciate tremendously what it states about the value of fiction and how it can change so easily and how that’s not a bad thing, so ultimately I do believe that it is an incredibly well told story with an incredible ending.

As for the main story game play itself, it’s a lot like previous entries. In terms of exploration, it’s a lot like the first entry, being set in a single school that you can walk around in in first person, with rooms that you use a cursor to explore and to find evidence for class trials. The school doesn’t have an aesthetic atmosphere as depressing as the first entry, though the story makes up for still giving it the same feeling. Still, it going back to being small as compared to the gigantic location of the second game does give it a more cozy feeling for lack of a better word. Each character having their own themed room also helped with that. The other main game play aspect, the class trials, are also like past games for the most part, being annoying in the same ways but working well enough to push the story along. The new mini-games that were part of these were at a similar quality to the past ones, not being good but being passable. In addition to the main story, as before with previous entries there’s a mode dedicated to having the characters interact with each other, which while can be done during the main game, feels much more natural to do here. I think they did a much better job as compared to past entries though, in that it skips the building before a certain date mechanic entirely, and just allows you to focus on the characters. The only game play during this mode is the casino, which is variants of the mini-games from the class trial, that let you obtain coins to use as presents for said relationship aspect, with a certain present known as the Love Key being especially interesting. They also added an entire other mode that’s basically a full on mini-RPG that crosses over characters from the entire Danganronpa franchise, which is somewhat interesting to see just due to the crossover character interactions aspect, but overall didn’t really feel worth it as this aspect is quite random and too spread out, and I found the game play itself to not be very good but rather quite a pain to have to deal with.

The graphics and presentation in this game are very different from past entries, feeling much higher budget. The art is still the same style and quality, but the world itself is in 3D CG without cell shading for the most part. This feels somewhat awkward and lacking in charm at first, but overtime I grew used to it and liked it. Similarly, it uses far more effects in it’s visual novel portions in terms of split screens and pans and such, which also took some getting used to but ultimately I think it works really well. Music was also mostly really good with the main theme still being amazing and the background tracks being solid, though I didn’t really like the Monokubs theme, certainly not as much as the themes of Monokuma, Monomi, or the themes from the other games.

Another solid Danganronpa entry, though one with an ending that breaks all the rules, for better or worse.

9/10

Before this game I felt like I would love to keep playing these forever. Now I feel like it needs at least a long break and then maybe a complete reboot. That’s probably a feeling they intended, but it still feels kind of strange.