Saturday, July 30, 2011

Game Diary - Catherine.

When I was a kid - seventeen or so - my girlfriend and I became regulars at this wonderful little restaurant. It had a primo location, sitting right across from a beautiful footbridge that led to the biggest park in the city, home to flower gardens, looming bronze sculptures and our city's zoo.

It felt very adult of us, to be out wearing our stylish young-people clothes, sitting in a dimly-lit, ultra-trendy restaurant, sharing a huge plate of divine fettuccine alfredo and - perhaps - a light but suitably indulgent slice of cake. Every time we went there, I would steal a flower from one of their lovely arrangements and - after paying the bill and stepping out into the hot summer air - I'd pull it out of my sleeve and offer it to her as we walked to the park.

Catherine reminds me of those days. It has a clear horror bent, but there's something romantic and fresh and almost innocent about the game.

The horror angle is the most prevalent mood the game cultivates, but it also has what I can only refer to as "The Atlus Feel." Art direction is bold and poppy, character designs are a delicious blend of archetype and originality, and the game enjoys the developer's easygoing dialogue and strange detours into wacko humor. It's just... interesting to be playing a game that is entirely about romantic entanglements.

Some of it falls flat, I must admit. Thus far, Vincent is a pretty unlikable protagonist. Perhaps it's because I've never been so drunk off my ass that I blacked out and woke up next to a woman I'd never met, but I don't understand why he allows his little problem to snowball out of control.

Here's all you need to do, Vincent. When you wake up next to Catherine, all you have to say is "ohhh shit. This was a mistake. This was a major, major mistake. What? No, you're gorgeous, Catherine - but I have a girlfriend whom I love very much. This isn't your fault - this was my mistake, and if I could remember it, I'm sure I'd admit it was a pleasant one - but this can never happen again, and after I make you breakfast and you feel suitably refreshed, I never want to see you again."

Beyond that... am I the only one who isn't precisely convinced that Vincent actually did have sex with Catherine? Just because she's in his bed, naked, when he wakes up from his hellish nightmares of ultra-obvious symbolism doesn't mean they actually had sex - I suspect the little weirdo is just breaking into his home every night, stripping down and waiting 'till he wakes up for the sole purpose of freaking him out.

His long-time girlfriend isn't a particularly likeable character either, but at least I get her. I understand Katherine - she's just kind of a controlling jerk. "What? You want to have a joint bank account over which you and you alone have total control? Well, I think I want a break."

That said, I am engaged in the story and I can't wait 'till Kathy finds out about Cathy and pulls this face.

More impressive, I feel, is that the "action-puzzler" aspect of the game really works. The game is challenging, but as I play through it on Normal difficulty I find it's just challenging enough.

It's not unusual for a game to have triumphant music, a shower of confetti and a character cheering at their own success when you clear a level - but in Catherine, that is exactly how I feel too. It is immensely satisfying - an doubly impressive thanks to gameplay that's so completely different from anything else I've ever laid my hands on.

It's like, The Persona Team? Really? I can understand that a studio that exclusively engages in RPG fare would want to try something different, but it's pretty damned impressive that they tried something so different and made it actually work.

Anyone see this week's Ugly Americans?

I am this close to making Doug my new header image.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Black Death prototype trailer.

An action game where you fight zombie-like monsters? Well I never!

At the same time, Black Death looks to be doing something interesting with its biohazard/mask mechanic. I like the realistic-but-stylish presentation.

At the moment, however, it's a PC exclusive - so I'll never have to worry about it.

Also - what is it, movie-embedding day? Looks like it is! I'll try to write something substantial when I get home from work - assuming I haven't been distracted by plaintive calls for social interaction.

Another 21 seconds of Grand Knights History!

Check out this awesome map screen!*

*neither facetious nor sarcastic.

MUSIC - The Heavy.

After my recent bout with Bastion soundtrack addiction, I found solace in the songs of The Heavy. You remember The Heavy, don't you? They did the song that plays over one of the year's best trailers?

Well, I snagged both of their albums the other day, and they are currently What I Listen To Like, All The Time.

Colleen - embedded above - most of all, but here's a sampler of what shall, henceforth, be known as "the good shit."

Thursday, July 28, 2011

3DS dropping to $170!

And less than two hours ago I wrote a post about how Canadians can buy a 3DS this week for the sweet, sweet price of two hundred bones. Well, turns out there's a reason why Best Buy is trying to get rid of their current 3DS stock at a "greatly reduced" price.

It was just announced - 3:00AM local time - that Nintendo's 3DS will have its price slashed by 30% as of August 12th. The new standard price for the handheld will be $169.99 - likely due to the way sales of the new handheld plummeted shortly after launch.

If you have your eye on the 3DS for one upcoming game or another, be sure to hold off for another two weeks!

* * *

Of course, there could be another point to this whole exercise...

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

You can now play some No More Heroes in HD. For free.

"Some" being the operative word. Not all. A teensy taste - as No More Heroes: Heroes' Paradise now has a demo up on the PSN!

I'll certainly be giving that a whirl (1) to see how the controls hold up with a Dualshock and (2) because perhaps it will actually discourage me from purchasing the game new. That would be a pleasant change from my usual pricy regimen.

Hey Canadians, want a 3DS for $200?

I know the lion's share of my readers are from the U.S, and only about 12% hails from the Great White North - but for you twelve per cent, if you're interested in a 3DS? Now's the time.

Both Best Buy and Future Shop have sales on that see Ninty's latest going for a mere two hundred bones - a fifty dollar saving off the regular price.

Even I found myself tempted at this price. Then I thought about it and remembered I don't actually want or care about the 3DS.

Also, can I just say Future Shop is a pretty useless store? Future Shop and Best Buy are both owned by the same company and their pricing is always identical - but Best Buys tend to be large and clean, with a better selection and nicer staff, while Future Shops are cramped with messy shelves and angry sales staff who work on commission.

What makes it even sillier is that - in my town - Best Buy and Future Shop are right beside each other. If you go into Best Buy and can't find what you're looking for, all you have to do is walk north to the next pair of doors you find a bam - you're in Future Shop.

Future Shop, why do you even exist? Is it so I can feel just a little bit lower-class, just by walking into you? You're like Wal-Mart for technophiles.

I'm totally playing Catherine!

And it's crazy. Not the game, I mean. Well no, the game is crazy - but the fact that I'm playing Catherine is crazy.

A year ago I was pouring over strange foreign screenshots, inventing a narrative to fit them, wondering what the heck it was all about. Today I'm making moral choices as Vincent, playing nice as I send reassuring, supportive texts to Katherine and scrambling up a crumbling stair of death in my underwear.

And it's localized and it all makes sense and despite some wonky animation the presentation is so stylish it occasionally breaches the lines into slick territory.

It's a... profoundly different game. The narrative is nice and slow-paced, the characters are quickly well-defined, the voice work is up to Atlus's exemplary standard and the puzzle-platforming gameplay is simply unlike anything else I've ever played.

It's so refreshing. It's like a strawberry daiquiri. Nom nom.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

ANIME - Sword of the Stranger.

In keeping with a recent moral choice to purchase interesting-looking animes and movies before viewing them, I present to you Sword of the Stranger. This new tack has served me well here and badly there - let's see how I fared this time...

Sword of the Stranger kicks off like a good swordfightin' period-piece anime should - with some jaw-dropping action. A handful of warriors from China are in Japan searching for something, and they are set upon by forest-dwelling bandits.

One of them dashes forward, with a confident nod from his master. He proceeds to massacre the enemy force with elegant, looping and acrobatic Wushu swordplay - very different from the efficient, familiar Japanese Kendo we so often see in animes set in the same period.

Good! Very good! A warrior who has perfected his art, with no one left in the world to challenge him - a cliche if there ever was one - and we have something that feels just a touch different: he's a giant, he uses Chinese sword style, and it turns out he's actually a white dude.

The familiar and the surprising - this is comfortable entertainment.

Perhaps more comfortable than we're used to with high-quality animes, really. The story isn't an ultra-high-brow affair that will leave you scratching your head at all the plot points left unsaid, or all the heavy-handed symbolism.

It's very straightforward. A boy is on the run, a ronin comes to his defense.

You already know how it's going to end, right? Right.

It's not challenging, but it is fun and I daresay much more wholesome than similar action fare. Personal favorite Ninja Scroll boasts similarly fabulous combat sequences, but it's also peppered with rather mature content (see: rape).

Sword of the Stranger doesn't need to go to such dark places. It's a simple story of a man desperate for redemption and a kid who needs to believe in something.

There's a saccharine sweetness to it that is, at times, too much - but that just lets it sit in a slightly separate category from other action-heavy fare.

Sword of the Stranger may not be required reading for anime fans, but it's still a high-quality entertainment product. One immediately identifies with its archtypical characters, nods with understanding as they establish relationships and grins gleefully when a few master warriors finally throw down.

This is one of those action movies where you'll frantically grab for the remote to rewind, because (a) what the hell just happened? (b) what just happened was frickin' awesome, and (c) I have got to see that again.

It's one of those action movies where the action is spectacular, and you don't have to feel guilty about all the in-between stuff it takes to get there. Definitely check it out.


It's out. I preordered the Love Is Over Edition from Amazon back in May, but doesn't offer release-day shipping like they do in the States - it won't be arriving till August 5th(ish).

That's certainly not soon enough, given that Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet drops on the 3rd - so what option did I have but to snag a day-one copy from a local vendor? I stopped in at my local EB Games this past Saturday to put down five bucks on it.

Today I'm relayed a message shortly after I wake up (I work nights) that EB Games called - they won't have Catherine in for a few more days.


I also get a message that a local mom & pop store that actually specializes in selling classic games (they have Atari carts there) called yesterday to tell me they got a copy of The Legend of Zelda: A Link To The Past! I called them up, confirmed it's there, and asked if they happened to have any copies of Catherine for PS3.

They did! And they'd hold a copy for me! I love you, PnP Games.

Catsureee! CATSUREEE!

Monday, July 25, 2011

The Games of August 2011.

Like poor July before it, August is a desert for the weary pilgrim. A dead land. A cracked and blistering nothingness that stretches to infinity with shining, winking pinpricks of light on the horizon. They could be sustenance. That glistening glow could be gaming bliss! It could also just be El Shaddai.

So choose - but choose wisely. For as the True Awesome Game gives life, the false ones shall take it from you.

* * *

August 3rd
Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet
Hype-O-Meter: Day one.

I've been, well, freaking out over Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet since I first glimpsed a trailer over two years ago. I cheered when the game's creators announced they had found a publisher - even though it was for a console I didn't own or intend to own at the time. When I finally purchased an Xbox 360 and got it up and running last December, one of the first games that came to mind was this little (potential) gem. And I quote:
"OhmiGod I'll be able to play Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet now!

It's a free-flying twin-stick shooter where you pilot a tiny UFO through a weird, silhouette world with a Metroid-like progression structure, art direction and animation from the celebrated Michel Gagné and music by Dimmu Borgir. I have no idea who or what Dimmu Borgir is, but they've been credited with the music for every trailer thus far and things have sounded fabulous.

I know, I know - Deus Ex is a big deal - but for me Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet is the most important release of the month. 1400MSP. Dig it.

August 16th
El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron
PS3, 360
Hype-O-Meter: Eugh.

Slotted for release in July, El Shaddai was mysteriously pushed back to August. Maybe it's to give people time to forget about how boring the demo was? I'm so disinterested in this game, I'm just going to copy-paste what I wrote about it last month.
"I'm a huge proponent of great art direction, and El Shaddai has it in spades - but that seems to be all it has. It has shitty voice work, numb combat, bland platforming and most damning of all - if the demo was anything to go by - it's just boring.

Not boring to look at, but so help me, that's just not enough. I'm frankly amazed this is getting a full disc release and isn't just a PSN download.

...I will admit it's cool to have a game based entirely on Christian mythology, though - but you can do that and still be a fun game."

August 23rd
Deus Ex: Human Revolution
PS3, 360, PC
Hype-O-Meter: High.

I'll more than likely day-one Deus Ex if early reviews are kind to it. I've largely kept away from media about it - an unconscious defense mechanism when it comes to games that I expect to be largely excellent, but haven't really thrilled me on a passionate, romantic level (see: Grand Knights History, about which I'll read and post everything I find).

Still, I do expect Deus Ex to be largely excellent. It was pegged for a much earlier release, but Square Enix held it back for a further six months to (presumably) polish it up to blockbuster standards and get some of the money they thought they'd earn from the disastrous Final Fantasy XIV Online.

Deux Ex: Human Revolution should be a grand, triple-A, phenomenally open first-person game that throws you into a story and allows you to solve it any way you choose. You can, famously, complete the entire game without killing anyone - a rare feat for any modern action title.

Me? I expect I'll be a stabby, neck-snappin' stealth character. I do love me some stealth games - and if Deus Ex will let me play it as one (which it will), all the better.

August 30th
BloodRayne: Betrayal
PS3, 360 (on the 31st)
Hype-O-Meter: Medium.

I don't expect much from the BloodRayne franchise, but gameplay trailers for Betrayal have left me cautiously optimistic. It's a 2D sidescrolling brawler with lovely western-style art an pretty-darn-good animation.

Whether or not it's a good game remains to be seen - but I'm definitely willing to give Betrayal a chance. ...just give me a demo.

* * *

And that's August. Slim and slender pickins - but ITSP and Deus Ex certainly make up for the limited company they keep.

Hands up everyone who's listening to songs from Bastion.

It becomes an addiction - and I won't link you to the tracks, as they would definitely be spoilers for those of us who haven't yet played them game.

I had to rip myself away from it with a mix that kicks off with Mayday. A cry for help, perhaps?

[update]Ah, there we go. I'm listening to The Heavy now.

Sweet, drippy, bluesy, funky, rock style. [/update]

Sunday, July 24, 2011

REVIEW - Bastion.

I dig my hole

you build a wall

Wake up, Kid.

I rarely put discs into my Xbox 360 these days. For me, the point and purpose of the console is games like Bastion. Beautiful, unique, emotionally satisfying and bite-sized fare that generally costs around fifteen bucks a pop.

Limbo was excellent, but perhaps not a great value for the money. Shadow Complex was very good, but not quite excellent.

Bastion is excellent - and an excellent value. It is a delicious confection of an action-RPG. Rich in theme, satisfying in depth, romantic in execution and comfortable in the hand. Yum.

Open your eyes. You've been asleep in your bed, which is on a tiny platform floating in open sky. You are The Kid, and the Calamity has ripped your world apart overnight. Overseen by the silky-smooth, gravel-voiced narrator, you set off to discover what's happened to your home - the world piecing itself back together underfoot as you go - which is strange, but as the narrator points out "the Kid don't stop to wonder why."

Bastion's world is at once beautiful and simple. It's essentially a series of lovely corridors and rooms with nothing beyond - but the freakish sight of the level assembling itself as you move through it is a nice punch that demands attention.

Every level (and the game entire) is large and different enough to feel a sense of exploration and accomplishment, but not so big that it begins to wear out its welcome. Each invariably offers a new weapon or a powerful object that will open up a whole wing of upgrades and challenges at the game's titular hub location. One is never bored in Bastion - constantly driven forward by its bittersweet story and enticing systems of rewards - but what really sets it apart is just how much changing your weapon changes the game.

It's rather like Demon's Souls, where each weapon type completely rewrites the rules of how you have to play. You can wield two at any given time, and must return to the Bastion's armory to change your loadout - but what's most appetizing is that each and every weapon may be not just exploited for its obvious strengths, but mastered.

I am a demon with my Breaker's Bow. It requires a moment to draw the string, but once the timing is seared into your muscle memory you find yourself nailing frame-precise power shots. It's immensely satisfying to have five very dangerous enemies coming for you, and nock off five perfect shots in a row.

Every weapon has slightly different mechanics and requires the player to learn its lessons well before it reveals its full potential. Bastion's gameplay is deep enough to offer satisfaction - certainly fun enough to keep one engaged - but, of course, there's more to say.

Its presentation is uniformly excellent.

Every new enemy, every weapon you find, every conversation you have, every choice you make and every crumb of story is revealed by the wonderfully-cast narrator, who drips bittersweet exposition throughout the game like salted honey. There's a cool indifference to his voice - but there's also weariness, and a palpable sense of loss and pride.

I tend to be pretty hard on games' narratives - often taking them to task for gluts of needless exposition or revealing too much too soon - but Bastion makes no such mistakes. The mystery of the Calamity and its solution is drip-fed by that wonderful voice - always keeping the player engaged on their first playthrough, consistently revealing a deeper meaning when traveling back through the game on New Game Plus, and still leaving some nice unanswered questions for the player to mull over.

The music, as well, is among the best of the year. If The Singer isn't featured at this year's Video Game Awards in a similar fashion to last year's rendition of Far Away, I will eat my hat.

Finally, the game's environments are entirely hand-drawn - the way games used to be. It's like the artists from the heyday of Sierra's adventure gaming dominance sat down and decided to see what they could pull off in HD. Bastion never quite enters "gorgeous" territory, but at the very least it's consistently beautiful.

The game is stuffed with little items to find and tweaks to the gameplay - entirely at the discretion of the player. At the Bastion - your base of operations - you can "spec" your Kid by selecting a variety of liquors which grant permanent, passive buffs. If you wish, you can increase the game's difficulty by invoking different gods at the Shrine (this one makes enemies move faster, this one makes them hit harder) for increased rewards of experience and currency.

If there is a complaint I can level against Bastion, it is that - as opposed to the greater sin of outstaying its welcome with needless padding - I was sad to see the credits roll. The game's bountiful New Game Plus option is exceedingly welcome, in this case.

That's telling, isn't it?

The worst thing about Bastion is that it ends.

  • beautiful
  • fantastic music - The Singer and Home Sweet Home are two of the best moments in gaming this year
  • the degree of mastery the combat offers is very satisfying
  • lots to find and collect
  • a massive variety of customization options
  • the narrator is awesome
  • constantly varied scenery
  • it has a ton of extra content to explore, from little tweaks to the difficulty to challenge rooms
  • the way the path assembles in front of you is, well, pretty damned cool
  • New Game Plus begs for more playtime
  • a reserved, well-designed story that doesn't answer all your questions

  • the story leaves you asking questions (which is, in my humble opinion, a good thing - but it'll tick some people off)
  • it ends

A delicious downloadable treat.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

It was a good day.

Today was an all-around great day. Blue and I went shopping - I picked up another anime I've never seen (because I guess I'm crazy and wanted to give it one last shot after that last intensely unfortunate experience). More on that once I've watched it.

We also swung by EB Games (see: GameStop in Canada) just to see - turns out their summer door crasher special today was a new copy of White Knight Chronicles for five dollars.

Five dollars. You no doubt know my first question: "do you have a sealed copy?"

Turns out they did! So I bought it - thanks mostly to that awesome trailer set to the song The Travelers from the game's OST. I also picked up a UMD copy of Chains of Olympus, a double of inFamous (it was ten bucks, and not a Greatest Hits label) and The Host on Bluray. The Host may just be my single most favorite creature-feature movie of all time - but I'm not sure if Predator counts in that running.

Then I we went to a restaurant we've always wanted to try which turned out to be rather expensive with rather small portions - but at least their spicy chicken sandwich was pretty darned good. Finally, we saw Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part Two, and got cheap pepperoni pizza from Little Ceasar's.

A very good day.

MOVIE - Harry Potter and the Deathy Hallows Part Two.

The final Harry Potter movie feels precisely like it should: the grand payoff. A steeple of intense catharsis perched atop a decade's worth of narrative construction.

Gone is the need to develop character. We know these people intensely well, and there's nothing further to reveal to us about Harry, Ron and Hermione. Snape, finally, is revealed to be the most rounded and interesting character in the franchise in part of a late-movie series of emotional foreplay that had me welling up for thirty minutes straight.

Gone are the endless series of mysteries for the kids to solve. We know why we're here - we know what Harry, Ron and Hermione must do to destroy Voldemort - and we know that, by the end, they will succeed. At one point, when they reiterate their plan and come to the conclusion that "then, this will all be over," I must admit I felt a twinge of sadness at the thought.

Once Voldemort dies, so too dies Harry Potter. There is no story left to tell once his great nemesis exits stage left, and that idea is as bittersweet as turning the last page of Book Seven.

If we must say goodbye to a wonderful world where wizards play extreme sports on broomsticks and lifelong friends are made over potions class, wearing jaunty striped neckties and stylish cloaks - this is the way to do it. Two hours rich with action, set pieces, love and loss.

It's delicious. I'm likely still reeling from its comfortable, thrilling embrace, so I'll try to leave you with a perhaps more dispassionate measure:

If you love Harry Potter, this is the conclusion-film you wanted it to be. The only thing I was left wishing it contained was Luna giving Neville a kiss on the cheek.

Batman: Arkham City Penguin trailer!

Oooh, the rogue's gallery is getting rich.

Sorry about that.

Last night or early this morning you may have swung by the blog in the anticipation of reading a teensy tidbit of gaming news or an opinion piece of whathaveyou, and what did I have for you?

Nothing. No post yesterday.

That was downright unkind of me, and I apologize. I swear on my blog, I'll put together something substantial tonight.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Three things.

I downloaded Bastion just before I left for work yesterday and put about an hour into it last night. While everything folks say about it is true (thus far), I also can't help but notice I don't seem to be having as much fun as I was with Valkyria Chronicles 3.

That's very weird. For me, at least - very weird to consider a slower-paced, Japanese-developed RPG to be "more fun" than, well, anything.

At the same time, Bastion is new and pretty and I don't mind the narrator - in fact, I feel he is a seasoning that gives Bastion a sharp, pleasant and unique flavor. I'll try to put some more time into it before I go to work.

On the other hand - no, I don't have time.

* * *

Today Kevin Conroy - who voiced Batman for the wonderful Warner Bros. animated series, 2009's incredible Batman: Arkham Asylum and the upcoming Arkham City spilled the beans on upcoming episodic content for the new Batman title.
"The thing about Arkham City is that it’s going to be an ongoing game. You’re going to be able to download future episodes of it, so it’s going to be going on for quite a while. I’ve been recording it for a while. So that will continue."
Ooh, I'll bet the publishers didn't want that announced quite yet. Still - thanks for the info, Kevin!


* * *

No More Heroes and Shadows of the Damned creative force Suda 51's next project is Lollipop Chainsaw, in which a high school cheerleader kicks the crap out of zombies.

I have no problem with this premise.

One question, though - why does she have a jock's still-living head dangling from her belt?

Oh well - that will no doubt be answered in the rich narrative that forms the foundation for this triumphant coming-of-age tale.

Let's check out some screenshots, shall we? I like how it has a slightly comic-book vibe, with thick lines on the outlines/limbs of the enemies.

She's gonna' kick your ass - with school spirit. (Also, a chainsaw.)

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Prototype 2 homecoming trailer.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: Radical Entertainment - the best reason to buy a game published by Activision. The original certainly had its flaws (quite a few, actually), but it was still a helluva lot of fun.

Word is this trailer is the first part of a 'trilogy' of trailers due to be released over the course of the San Diego Comic Con - so stay tuned!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Darksiders II HD extended trailer and a gameplay vid!

It's been a while since E3, so you may have forgotten that I love Darksiders, and as long as there's a subtle difference between this trailer and the last one I posted, it's going up. Well, this one's in HD!

Also, check this out - I found a vid of Death layin' the apocalyptic smackdown on some villains. He certainly seems much more agile and mobile than War was.

* * *

In others news, Limbo (which is awesome) is now available on PSN, along with Final Fantasy Tactics: War of the Lions for PSP. Do I really need another digital copy of Limbo? Of course not.

...though... I do still have a PS+ membership... which makes it only $11.99...

But no, that's still stupid. That's just stupid. Right?

ANIME - Dance in the Vampire Bund.

Two weeks ago as I was reading my nightly webcomics I saw a banner ad for an anime with an awesome title. What the heck is "Dance in the Vampire Bund?"

I didn't know, but I aimed to find out. My research essentially consisted of going to its Wikipedia page and checking out its plot synopsis, a few character bios and some review snippets. It was certainly grounds for an interesting story. Like all geeks, I enjoy a good vampire show - and here was an anime property I'd never heard of. Those often prove to be the very best ones.

Mina Tepeş is the last pureblood vampire, and unquestioned monarch of the vampire race. One day she appears to the shocked and suspicious people of Japan and announces the existence of her kind - and her intention to build a city-state on an island just off the coast. Violence brews and erupts as shadowy forces attempt to dislodge her plans for peaceful coexistence between humankind and the vampires.

She has the body of a ten-year old girl.
This is where we get into trouble.

In keeping with a recent revolution to stop taste-testing movies before I buy them, I went into Best Buy and picked up the complete Dance in the Vampire Bund - twelve episodes.

When I laid the box on the counter, I know what the woman who rang me up was thinking.
"Ugh. Pervert."

...which was an entirely reasonable reaction. This is the cover on the blu-ray/dvd pack:


But that's okay! A moment of embarrassment is only a moment! I went home and opened up the box and took a look at the DVD cover art.

Things weren't getting any better. Things were getting worse.

I didn't want this thing in my house any more, but I popped the first blu-ray disc into my PS3 and watched the first two episodes.

Oh. My. God. How was it even legal to release this show in North America?!

I'm not going to post any screenshots of the offending content - and I've little doubt enthusiasts who are as passionate about anime as I am about gaming will take me to task for maintaining this position - but there is no purpose for some of this show's content beyond appealing to pedophiles.

Again, I'm not going to post these screens, so take me at my word as you view much tamer images.

At this point I could have either thrown the entire ensemble into the garbage - after breaking the discs - or I could watch the thing through to its end and write a scathing blog post about it.

Obviously, I chose the latter.

That's right, Mina. You should be sad. Your show is largely offensive and otherwise mediocre.

The show regularly presents the ancient vampire princess in various states of undress (or entirely naked). It never feels like there's anything innocent about it. It flatly sexualizes the body of a child, and while I can perceive arguments in its defense, I cannot agree with them.

Vampire stories have always been about romance and sexuality. Never literal sex - but for all their evil trappings and unholy alliances, the vampire's greatest power over us is their beautiful ability to seduce.

Vampire Bund clearly tries to convince us that it's okay to apply such bold sexuality to the image of a child because of this historic association with its subgenre. "This is what vampires have always been about, and her body only looks like a child's body - that makes it okay, right?"

Wrong. Not okay. Not close to okay. The show rationalizes itself with its fiction - even going so far as to suggest Mina looks like a child because she chooses to - but this could have been handled in such a way that allows the show to tell its story without its regular, disturbing displays. This could have been entirely about story and character and a love everlasting.

The show could have tried to shock us with the implications of an adult mind in a child's body with a few astounding scenes, and given us food for thought. Instead, its regular spoon-feeding of such imagery feels like blatant pandering to child molesters.

Elsewhere, it actually has a really good story. Aside from romantic male lead Akira - who is merely a by the numbers, cool-and-nice-dude-who-learns-to-trust-his-own-strength hero - most characters are well fleshed-out and defined. There's often great exploration of their motives, histories and desires.

The vampire world and culture that's presented here is well-designed, with warring factions, interesting mythos and political intrigue. The ending of the show feels entirely positive - Mina has dominated her enemies, Akira has proven himself the most badass of badasses and they pledge their undying affection to each other. It's nice.

Beyond all the loli-con and eventual shota-con crap, there is a lovely little romance story being told, here. Half the time I was certain the show was attempting to appeal to teenage and young-adult girls due to its heavy emphasis on the love story, the idealization of its male lead and its limited attention to action.

The action sequences are lackluster at best. The visual design is occasionally very cool, but instead of choreographing interesting combat there tends to be a flash and the slow-motion after-shot of whatever just happened.

This was clearly not the emphasis of the series. What the series emphasis is I can't accurately say - but I'm certain that, aside from the interesting story and world created here, I found it a largely disturbing encounter with animation.

* * *

A member of my immediate family was the victim of severe sexual assault when she was a child. Perhaps that makes me unusually sensitive to the issue, but Vampire Bund's more shocking moments never feel like they have any higher purpose in mind - and my own perspective is all that I'm armed with. It's chock-full of the imagery of rape, and spilling over with moments of naked girls and a grown woman forcing herself on a boy.

I will now return to "pre-viewing" all anime before purchase. The mild guilt between watching Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex online and purchasing it a few weeks later is nothing compared to the vile knowledge that my buying dollar has tacitly encouraged this type of work.

My friends...

Never watch this. Never buy this. Never support this.

Nervous eyes dance from Bastion to VC3 and back again.

Bastion was placed prominently on my radar as soon as I saw screenshots of it. In the same way I fell easily in with DeathSpank upon its arrival last year, a good-looking action-RPG often strokes me in just the right way.

But maybe it was just gorgeous, right? I mean... that's not enough. Usually.

Reviews started dropping for Bastion today, and I have a choice to make. Do I play that, or do I keep playing Valkyria Chronicles 3? Several weights have aligned, on this one.
(1) Valkyria Chronicles 3 is an eight-month old Japanese-only release. You, dear reader, likely don't care if I review it. I'll adhere to the principle that this is my blog where I write whatever the heck I want to write to the ends of the earth - but I still like to provide a service.

(2) Bastion is brand spankin' new, and available in the country you live in - you'd likely find a review of it more helpful.

(3) I'm certain to be able to beat Bastion and get a review up before next Tuesday.

(4) If VC3's length is anything like VC2's, there's no way I'll be able to finish it in time.
By "in time," I mean Catherine's North American release on July 26th. No... I think I'll be grabbing Bastion - unless there's a demo available which really turns me off the game. Based on everything I've seen, read and heard about it? It sounds right up my alley.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Mega Man Legends 3 canned - we have only ourselves to blame.

And by "we," I mean "you."

You didn't go out and buy a 3DS, and then pay cash money to experience the unfinished demo they were offering for Mega Man Legends 3! Thanks to that, the game didn't meet "the required criteria" for its further development - and its further development is no more.

Awwww. Well, at least Capcom won't pull that crap again any time soon. One hopes.

Hm. Something occurs to me...

I worry that Grand Knights History won't get a western release. It's due out September 1st in Japan, and we've heard no word of localization.

The closest hint we've gotten that it's coming to North American shores is the fact that a trailer was released during this year's E3. It was still a totally-Japanese trailer, but the fact that it was released during the biggest gaming event in the west is still mildly encouraging.

Now... I'm obviously jumping the gun a bit, here. The game isn't even due for a Japanese release for another month and a half, but the longer they wait to localize it the less sense it will make to do so.

Come mid-2012 the PlayStation Vita will be out, and Sony will likely stop supporting the PSP entirely. There will be no new games for it. There's a good chance there won't be many (if any) on store shelves. They're probably banking on some new security solution for the Vita that won't turn it into North America's next hive of pirate scum and villainy - like the PSP.

Now... obviously, I'm going to play Grand Knights History one way or the other. Looking at the price right now on Play-Asia - and comparing that to what I paid for Valkyria Chronicles 3 - I wonder if it wouldn't behoove me to jump the gun, as it were, and put my money on this game never getting localized.

That's not very hopeful of me, is it?

Perhaps best to wait 'till September. By then, I won't have the money to even consider such a thing.

Chrono Trigger gets an ESRB rating. Again.

You may recall that, back in April, Chrono Trigger was rated by the ESRB for Square Enix. Well, three months later, it's been rated again by the ESRB - this time for Sony, which acts as the publisher for pretty much every PS1 classic that comes to their PSN Store.

It was uncovered today that Final Fantasy VI, Klonoa: Door to Phantomile and (gasp!) Pong were similarly rated. Chrono Trigger's DS port was one of the few games that made me wish I owned the system - but despite the game's legendary status, I rather doubt my ability to become absorbed in it.

Rare is the JRPG that actually seduces me to the degree that I could complete it. Still, release it for a reasonable price and I'd love to give it a shot.


PS3 Child of Eden to have lower price?

Eurogamer reports that when the PS3 version of critically acclaimed commercial flop Child of Eden drops, it will cost £19.99 - half of its 360 counterpart's price. Whether or not the price difference in Europe will be reflected in North America remains to be seen, but I was actually a bit surprised with myself when I didn't pick the title up last month.

I don't see how I could possibly resist the game, new and sealed, for $20 on PS3. Well, unless the PS3 version gets some spectacularly bad reviews, due to an awful port or something.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Blog maintenance day.

Man, it takes hours to find a header-worthy picture.

Thankfully, before I got into all that jazz I poured over the meager pickings of recent news, to see if there's anything blogworthy. There isn't. Microsoft is baiting fanboys - and given that you surely know my feelings on the subject, I'll remain mute.

So, time for a little sweeping up around here! We've got a new header, and I've updated the features page. Speaking of which, I really should take some time to get all my movie posts in there...

Ah well, that's for another day. [update] Nope! My will be done. [/update]

(Checks watch.) Oh! Look at that - it's time to play VC3.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

In which I totally stop talking about Valkyria Chronicles 3.

Just kidding.

So a while ago I picked up a PSP-3000, mostly because Tenchu: Shadow Assassins isn't available on the PSN store. I somehow ended up deciding that - much like when there is a PS3 or PS2 game that I love to the ends of the earth and deem "double-able" (Okami, Odin Sphere, Bionic Commando, any Metal Gear Solid game) - I would similarly snap up important PSP games on UMD when I found them at a reasonable price. In the PSP's case it felt even more necessary, as the virtual copies I paid for and "own" for my Go don't feel particularly secure.

The only thing I ever played on my 3000 was about twenty minutes of Shadow Assassins. It didn't feel right, compared to its PS2 counterparts, and my 3000 has seen no love from me since - it's merely a backup.

Well, until now of course.

Valkyria Chronicles 3 handily legitimizes my ownership of the 3000. I am now excessively glad that I own one - though still troubled that I can't enjoy the game on my Go.

There's something deeply comforting about the gameplay and its tertiary systems. Beating up some dudes with elegant, brutal tactics and retiring to camp to purchase upgrades and customize my tank feels... wholesome. Almost comforting.

It is chicken noodle soup. It is Cheerios. It is New York cheesecake, with WWII styling and beautiful magical girls.

I was chatting with my younger brother about it today - he wanted to know why I would bother with 3 when its primary advantage over 2 was a story closer in tone to the original.

I explained that a JRPG I can love is a rare, precious thing. For the life of me - and I've tried - I can't enjoy or finish a Final Fantasy game. I probably put a few hundred hours into XI, but that's an MMO - that hardly counts.

When I played the demo for the first VC, that single demo became The Game that I played for a good week and a half. I just ran the demo over and over and over and over, amazed that I was playing a JRPG and just enjoying the combat. Aside from Persona 3, I had never experienced this before - it was something so rare. So special.

Similarly, I am falling quickly in love with VC3 despite my linguistic handicap - but one thing still bugs me. Still really bugs me.

This is what Valkyria Chronicles looks like. Well, this is what it looks like close-up:

Right-click, open in new window/tab to enlarge.

Which is... bloody incredible. It looks like a pencil-and-watercolor drawing come to life. The original Valkyria Chronicles, with its incredible visuals, great story, great voice work, great music and fantastic gameplay was just strength upon strength. It was wonderful from all sides.

This is what Valkyria Chronicles 3 looks like, similarly up-close:

Now, obviously a PSP game is never going to compare to its PS3 counterpart - Loco Roco aside - but slowly, much of what made Valkyria Chronicles so special is being lost.

2 was even more egregious for this, with its abhorrent narrative and annoying characters - which at least 3 seems to have remedied. That said, how would I know if it did?

At the same time, it speaks volumes that I'm able to enjoy 3 regardless of its language. At its core, what really made me sit up and take notice of VC wasn't its (gorgeous) graphics - it was how pleasurable it was to play. It remains so.

In fact, in the gameplay department, it's probably the best it's ever been.