Persona 5

It’s time for a new game review! While I have some others pending, it’s been such a long time since I played some of those games that I might have to go back for some studying or even replay some of them. However, recently a special colleague of mine turned me onto something new and ever since I’ve started playing it, I’ve been engrossed. I finished this game a month or so ago, though I never thought I would have given how much content there is! By the way, have I mentioned the game in question is Persona 5? This game was developed by Atlus and was released in 2017. The only other game I’m familiar with from this studio is the bizarre perversion Catherine; much like that title, Persona 5 is designed with Anime-styling in mind and has some otherworldly subject matter. However, if you’re a fan of RPGs and looking to get a bang for your buck, this game might be worth it for you. I must say I’m very much enjoying it and I was definitely sad when it was over, to the point where I actually started playing it again right after! Without further delay, here is what I believe makes Persona 5 a great buy!

Easy to jump into and start playing.

The ‘5’ in Persona 5 can be pretty off-putting, making you believe you are missing out on games 1 through 4. Thankfully, this title was in such a long development period that it would seem the developers spit out a pretty singular game. Bottom line? One doesn’t need prior knowledge of the Persona universe to play this game and fully enjoy it. My understanding is that each game features its own array of different characters and story-lines, making them quite independent of each other. The only inherited characters are the ‘Personas’, types of monsters that exist in a parallel universe referred to as the ‘Metaverse’. The story takes place in modern-day Tokyo and follows some pretty dynamic students who travel into this Metaverse to solve underlying problems that are affecting people in the real world. As the game progresses, it becomes increasingly clear that the magic of the other universe is spilling into the current one and massive catastrophe is looming unless the matters are resolved by your group of ‘Phantom Thieves’. The Thieves received that name based on the major story premise that they target a wildcard “bully” in the real world, travel into their metaphysical dungeon-world, and steal their heart back to make them into a better person. Further and further into the gameplay, though, this mission becomes increasingly twisted and more difficult. The good news is that the game provides in-depth tutorials and hints for almost every thing. Perhaps the hardest thing to keep up with will be the exam questions, unless you’re way smarter than I am and happen to know those answers!

The liberating freedom to develop how you want to.

Unlike most games where time is a very scarce concept (with some games always having daytime, while others may run on a 60-minute cycle…), Persona 5 works with a very specific day-to-day calendar up until the last event of the game. Each day, the player dictates what events occur between the ‘after school’ to ‘evening’ brackets of time. You can hang out with certain characters to build strategic relationships, go to work to earn money, study at school to become smarter, or even explore ‘Momentos’, one of the parallel universes in the games where one can level-up against the monsters known as Personas. Every action provides some type of benefit to the main character (you) and will critically determine how well you progress through the story-line. Building relationships is essential in this game, as deeper bonds with certain characters allow for stronger stats in the battlefield and all kinds of additional benefits. Be careful, though, because although the game is lengthy and the days can seem expendable, there will come a point in the game where you wish you had more time to get more things done.

A long journey ahead.

Persona 5 is no quick game. Once the Metaverse and Momentos portions become clear, there is A LOT to do for the main story and in terms of side missions. After my play-through of the first Palace (the fancy term for dungeon in this game), I felt like I had pretty much finished half the game; I WAS VERY WRONG. The Palaces are jammed pack with so much exploration, fighting, rewards, and secrets, that it is alarming to think the game has 7+ of them. Each time a Palace is located, the player has around a calendar month to finish it before a specific deadline (wherein I assume if you fail, it’s game-over?). This is where that concept of time comes back into play. In the real world, the days can escape you quickly, but in the Metaverse, time flows differently and the Palace CAN be played through fully in one single day (providing you have the best resources and tools to ration your SP). Because of the strategic thinking it will take to plan out which days to go into the Metaverse versus which days to stay in the real world and strengthen your skills, the game becomes even longer to play through because of the mass potentials and consequences. Think things through before wasting time!

One set of crazy stories and characters.

I think at this point it’s safe to say that Japan is a weird place and entertainment in Japan, especially in Manga/Anime, can get very strange. Persona 5 is no exception to this and you will notice that right-away. The first plot-line (referred to as the Kamoshida Palace) features a narcissistic gym teacher who beats his male students and sexually assaults his female students. There are suicide attempts and bouts of depression that follow. While I realize this can sound a bit freaky, the more hardcore subject matters plays into the strength of the many protagonists this story has. There are 8 core members that make up the Phantom Thieves, and even more special characters that tie-in as Confidants in the story. Each one is very different and lovable in their own way, perhaps catering to something each player me like. You have the freedom to decide who to grow the closest too and who to spend the most time with. In fact, because there are so many key characters, it will often be challenging to decide who to carry into battle and who to leave behind, but the game’s length and content allows for plenty of rotation. The game thrives off of a lot of bullying, especially cases where adults bully the youth. Besides Kamoshida, there are a lot of antagonists to take on in the game and bring to justice. For any fan of RPGs, this game rewards big time with a lot of dialogue, emotion, and drama.

Gotta catch’em all; Personas that is.

I’ve spent a lot of time talking about the general gist of Persona 5, but obviously I need to talk about why the game is named as such. Once venturing into the Metaverse, each core character takes on an alternate super-being form known as a Persona who embodies all of their heart’s wills and desires to fight. The Personas given to each character are unique and have their own set of strengths and weaknesses. The main character’s Persona, Arsene, utilizes curse magic to inflict the power of darkness on foes. If we look at the second character to unlock a Persona, he uses Captain Kidd, who attacks with electric magic to shock enemies. You see the theme here? Each Persona can use different elements and each core character has a different type to offer. What really makes the story become super interesting is that the main character can actually capture any Persona opposed in battle and keep a personal collection of them to use in future battles! You can easily switch between Personas in combat to inflict all kinds of elemental and physical damage, or beef up defense tactics and use healing magic. The only sucker-punch here is that there is a limit to how many Personas can be stored, but the game offers the ability to release, merge, and create new Personas at any point. As you progress in the gameplay, you will encounter higher-level Personas as you level up your own, but it will become necessary to collect new ones to keep up with the more difficult boss battles to be faced in the closing stages of the game. Personas will use up either HP (health points) or SP (skill points) to cause damage, so there is always a price to pay. The good news is that HP can be healed using various items or even using Persona magic, but SP is hard to come by. There are very few items in the game that will restore useful amounts of SP, or they are rare, time-consuming to obtain, or quite expensive. If one runs out of SP, the Persona is either limited to only HP-based attacks or has no use at all. Alas, though, if all else fails, the characters can still use their own physical attacks or guns to inflict damage. One other thing to keep in mind? The Personas can be VERY weird. There is no way I could write this review without making reference to Mara.

Added bonus: the grooviest soundtrack ever.

ASK ANYONE WHO HAS PLAYED THIS GAME… the jazzy, upbeat, grooving music is probably the big win here. At first it caught me by surprise, but after a while I found myself singing the songs over and over again in my spare time. The funny thing about the vocal songs is that they were actually recorded in English, not Japanese, but they sound like they were horribly dubbed into English all the same. Some of the most iconic pieces are the game’s suspense music and battle theme. I don’t think there is much else I can say on this topic, other than the soundtrack does get better as the game progresses and by itself is a good listen. As always, I advocate that we support our industries, so go ahead and snag a copy of the Original Soundtrack here.

In conclusion, I have to say that Persona 5 was a very unexpected surprise. It brought back the nostalgia of my Anime-watching days and I even recognized a lot of the vocal talent used here. For purists, the dub is not too far removed from the original Japanese game, so you can expect a mostly uncut experience. Actually, you can even download the Japanese language track and play through the game that way as well.  I managed to get this game on sale as a PlayStation Plus member, but I would have easily paid the full price given the great experience I had.  I most definitely recommend taking a look at the trailers below and then getting your copy here. By the way, if you did play this game and found you loved it, there was an Anime series released in Japan and so far it’s an AMAZING adaption of the game! I hope all of you find a place in your hearts for this title as I did.

CardCaptor Sakura Blu-Ray

Welcome to April everyone! In March I made quite a few contributions to make up for the lack of traffic over the last year, so I’m hoping to bring some more new stuff now that April has arrived. I decided to take a little break from all of the Moon-related posts and do a review of the CardCaptor Sakura collection. On August 5th, 2014, NIS America released the entire series on Blu-Ray in amazing 1080p greatness and I definitely made sure I had my set preordered long in advance. I actually ended up viewing this entire boxset before the actual release date (isn’t that crazy?), so this review has definitely been a long time coming. Whether you have always been an avid fan of the show or simply remember watching it on TV when you were a child, there are some very good reasons why you should open your wallet and shell out the funds to purchase this collection. Read on below to find out my true thoughts!

The Premium Edition set (featured above) contains Blu-Rays of Episodes 1-70 (the entire series) in both Japanese and English. Special features include standard extras on the discs such as all Creditless OP-ED Themes and other Anime series’ Trailers, and a special Episode + Clow Card Guide artbook, all housed in a nice boxset. Just for clarification, the English dub included here is not the Nelvana version aired in America and not the Madman version dubbed for Australia. It is actually a later re-dub done by Animax, perhaps being the most uncut English dub out there. FYI, the US dub was heavily edited and marketed differently as Cardcaptors in case you would be looking for that. The DVD Editions were released separately and divided by season into Set 1, Set 2, and Set 3.

My review is based on the Premium Edition Blu-Ray set, so without further delay, here is why I think this Anime classic is worth your time and money:

The video-quality is absolutely stunning

Before I get into it, I do want to say that I did my homework and prowled the Internet for thoughts on these topics and came back with very mixed reviews. I’ll try my best to be as objective as possible henceforth as I did come across valid points all around. First of all, I personally think this project is what the term ‘digital remaster’ was created for, much similar to Disney’s track record of releasing AMAZING Blu-Ray remasters of their classic animated movies. We can thank Geneon (my former favourite Anime distributor) for getting the ball rolling in Japan by obtaining these results for us several years ago when they released their Japanese Blu-Rays for CCS. When Anime started making its appearance on the Blu-Ray format a few short years ago, the first titles to get the high definition treatment were more modern day Anime shows produced in widescreen format. The obvious reason for this would be that upscaling the video becomes a lot easier as very little enhancement has to be performed on the footage. The Japanese Blu-Ray releases for the series Ghost In The Shell: Stand Alone Complex is an example of this where the already-amazing DVD footage was simply scaled into high definition size. This works out so easily because most modern animation is no longer hand-drawn onto cels, but completely rendered digitally. Unfortunately, the standard definition transfer to high definition process is not so easy when we go back to the 90s to revisit the classics. LESSON TIME! In traditional animation the characters were drawn onto stencils, which were then laid over backgrounds and then finally captured by film in a photographic manner (obviously a long and grueling process when you consider an average of 30 frames per second). Since this process entailed the physical work of arranging the animation by hand, the frames would often capture dust, hairs, prints, and maybe even fall out of alignment at times. The film was then transferred either onto a computer in digital format, or directly into whatever the most common formats were for that time; Japan liked LaserDiscs, but VHS was a more universal standard.  These now obsolete formats would not typically show any of the trasnfer artifacts of animation because even though at the time those formats were praised for their high quality, in this day and age we refer to them as low quality or below standard definition. This changed when the era of DVDs arrived and started to obliterate film media in favor of digital media. In the very beginning, most DVD releases were simply more transfers of the original production film to DVD or even the VHS film back into digital format.  The reason I’m taking the time to explain this is so that I can illustrate the many ways the footage gets corrupt during all these transfers and ages in its own right. Thankfully, as the digital age progressed, it became possible to edit video digitally and clean it up to look a lot better, eventually producing these high quality R2J DVDs. The 2000s became a great time to relive a lot of old titles in what we now call standard definition, until years later when high definition would be introduced. Now, the thing to take not of here is that whether we talk LaserDisc, VHS, or DVD, they all have one thing in common: 480p/i at 29.97fps (more or less). High definition meant a few changes: 1) a bigger frame size, either being 720/1080p/i, 2) possibly more frames per second, increasing to 30fps, 50fps, and even 60fps, and 3) a firm goodbye to fullscreen video and a big hello to widescreen only. At first, it seemed that only productions created in high definition would see the light of Blu-Ray treatment, but soon upscaling became a quick trick of the industry. Upscaling works really well when your video already has the right coloring, framerate, and widescreen dimensions, but what happens when all you have is old lackluster, interlaced, ghosted, aliased, fullscreen standard definition video? You get the bullshi North American Sailor Moon Blu-Ray collection; a bad quality source, barely acceptable for DVD that has simply been upscaled and mass produced. The end. Of course, in that example there are levels of politics involved, but when upscaling to high definition it is important to obtain the highest possible quality video source because upscaling is only a trick that makes the images bigger. Okay, lesson time is over and back to reality. In this case, rather than stick us with a grimy upscale, Madhouse (the animation studio behind CCS) unearthed the original film the show was produced on in the first place and re-transfered the entire series directly into high definition. This is what makes this a remaster and not just an upscale, because film is a manipulative medium that can be rendered into any format or size, where else digital video can only be manipulated in so many ways. Since the studio was able to provide the original film for direct transfer, CardCaptor Sakura has never looked so beautiful. The lines on the characters, the detail in the background, the ease of motion and playback is absolutely stunning. This is a process that was absent in the North American Sailor Moon Blu-Ray release because the animation studio claims they do not have the original source anymore (which seems very unlikely to me, but you never know given that 23 years have past…). Now, some video experts criticize that the animation now lacks it’s original age factor because there is no grain or depth to the footage, but I don’t see this as a bad thing. I like the idea that the show looks smooth and almost new. The colors or vibrant and gorgeous, and the onscreen text is very sharp and pristine. If you ask me, this release couldn’t have received better treatment. I, personally, never heard of NIS America until this set was announced, so I had my doubts since I’m an old school Geneon, ADV, and FUNimation kind of guy, but this studio handled the mastering really well. I don’t really know what else to say to convince you that the work that went into this project’s revival was absolutely outstanding, but I hope my long lesson above did the trick!

We really needed an uncut English dub

CardCaptor Sakura is one a few Anime shows that were hacked and slashed when they sailed over to America. To name a few: Sailor Moon, Dragonball, Pokemon, Digimon, and of course, Cardcaptors. I won’t really destroy these titles because they represent my childhood and I wouldn’t change that, but because of all the heavy editing, these shows were almost entirely different from the original Japanese Anime they once were. Episodes were banned, genders were changed, music was replaced, scenes were redrawn, and storylines were altered, all to make them into children shows geared towards American viewers. This is all fine and dandy, but has obviously enraged die hard fans of the original respective Anime titles because the English versions are so far gone from the true essence of each show. When DVDs came into circulation, uncut and dual audio releases became very popular, especially since more modern Anime are dubbed uncut to match the original footage. Some of these older shows eventually received new uncut dubs, while some still have yet to. NIS America promised a brand-new uncut dub for this set, but actually did not deliver on that promise exactly. Instead, the dub audio track used here allegedly from a dub Animax did for places like the Philippines. For some reason, people are not happy about this, but I don’t know why! I really like this version of the dub. Let’s focus on the good thing here: it is uncut, so we get all of the Japanese names and references, as well as some pretty damn accurate casting. I’m not a fan of the whiny girl voices they often use in Anime, but that’s basically how the girls sound in Japan so I get this decision. If you remember Cardcaptors then you will have some adjusting to get used to because Sakura, Kero, Tomoyo, and the whole gang will sound a lot different. However, I don’t see the crime here considering how accurate the voices are in comparison to the Japanese track. Only negative thing I will say here is that BECAUSE NIS America must have obtained this dub on the sly, it is only available in Mono and that is very noticeable. It sounds especially weird when you switch from the rich Japanese soundtrack to the English one and get only the one channel of audio. Another odd thing is that it seems some scenes (like the ones involving any homosexual relationships or feelings) were not dubbed, so instead you hear silence while subtitles appear onscreen to fill in the conversation. I never really encountered this before, but I like how NIS handled it. I think it would have been weird to suddenly switch to the Japanese vocals for a few minutes. I should also mention that some people are pissed that Animax did not make the effort to dub Tomoyo’s songs and opted to have her sing in Japanese. I see where this warrants some concern, but I also respect this decision because Anime fans can be very critical and would have bashed the lyrics of the singing. Considering the characters live in Japan, I don’t think it’s weird if the Japanese songs (whether performed by the characters or not) remain the same, especially given that the English voice actress for Tomoyo sounds identical to the Japanese one. Anyway, I feel that the dub is pretty good and even though there are minor things that aren’t perfect, I feel content finally hearing the story as it really is.

The product design is basically flawless

I always like to talk about the physical feel of a product considering it is a form of memorabilia when you think about it. Again, this is my first time hearing of NIS America, so I was quite skeptical about how they would handle this release. To my surprise, I have to hand it to them: this thing look great on my shelf. They opted for a more unorthodox size of boxset, making it a little taller than any Blu-Ray box I’ve seen (it’s probably the same height as a DVD collection). Though, I get that 9 discs is no joke, especially when you put them all in one case. The design element is very nice and especially the pressing on the discs, which are all holographic and feature the Clow-circle. All artwork used look brand-new, some of which I recognize from the Geneon releases in Japan, but some of it might be new. The artbook is another added treasure that you can’t go wrong with. It basically is an Episode Guide, but every time a new Clow Card is introduced, it features that as well. The end of the book contains some really nice artwork of Sakura and production credits for your knowledge. The entire set is very sturdy and heavy duty, so you won’t feel like you were robbed of anything. Content-wise, the menus feature some slight animation that must have been put together by NIS and I think it’s great. It’s good to see all versions of the OP-ED Themes are included without credits too. There are a variety of viewing options, ranging from Japanese with subtitles, English with partial subtitles, full subtitles, or none. CONTRARY TO FALSE STATEMENTS, NO THIS SET IS NOT HARD-SUBTITLED. It’s just that you cannot turn off the English subtitles when you view the episodes in Japanese (unless you manually switch them off via whatever player you’re using). The translation is pretty accurate and I appreciate that the different episodes switch between English and Romaji subtitles for the songs. Overall, excellent job from this production house for pulling this off!

This is a classic journey you will never want to forget

I’ve discussed a lot of things pertaining to the release itself, but now it’s time to talk CardCaptor Sakura. Fans all around the world will know about Sakura and Shaoran, the cutest little couple in the Anime world. I never was a huge fan of the show when I was a child because I was more into other shows, but revisiting this story was a treasure. I had once watched the show uncut, but I largely forgot how cute and passionate this adventure was. I feel like given the age of Sakura and her friends, it should be a obvious that they are relatively young and yet they have to deal with really mature problems. The cuteness of this show is what makes it stand apart from most other series because everything is innocent, even the approach to love. There is a lot of intricacy within the storyline, especially between Sakura’s parents and their secrets, as well as the relationship between her brother Toya and Yukito. Largely, there is something there for any audience member of any age to latch onto given the array of ages among the characters.  You have to appreciate Japan for always touching on homosexuality in Anime somehow, and I really must say the idea of how normal and bashful it is definitely appeals to me. There is also another golden taboo I noticed when Toya falls in love with his significantly older teacher, but then moves onto loving a boy. Like I said, leave it to Japan to make that seem average. You can never go wrong the magical girl element of the show and the wide array of magic brought into the story. I actually went out and got some cosplay Clow Cards for myself after watching the show because they are SO COOL. Yeah, I know that’s embarrassing, but I like them. Even the elements of evil in this show were never too ominous or evil, giving a very childish vibe to the series. I feel like the focus here was to present a show about growing up and being a mature role model, and this is definitely Sakura by definition. She showcases the importance of friendship, loyalty, hard work, and love. How can you go wrong with all of that? Kudos to CLAMP for giving us a timeless adventure to remember forever.

I must say that out of all of the Anime I’ve recently been able to relive in high definition, this collection is by far the most impressive. If you were a fan of this show back in the day (even a little bit), this is such a worthwhile investment to have in your collection as it is the best way you will ever see and hear this series. Head out and grab it while it’s still in print! Meanwhile, here are some of the Creditless OP-ED Themes to wow and amaze you.

Sailor Moon Crystal – Acts 1 & 2

It’s been a long time coming, but finally I’m starting my complete review lineup of the new TOEI Animation Anime Series Sailor Moon Crystal. In a couple of weeks it will have been a year since the remastered version of the 90s Anime was announced. The newly-animated reboot features a closer adaptation of the Manga created by Naoko Takeuchi, strictly following a pattern of one chapter equaling one episode, thus rendering this version of the show a lot shorter than the original 200-episode series. Crystal is streamed  through a variety of online services like Crunchyroll and Niconico, and airs a new episode every other or third weekend of the month (depending on the number of weeks per month). In other words, since the series began broadcasting last summer, it’s been a slow ride for fans waiting to watch each episode, but so far the story has completed the first arc of the series (the Dark Kingdom plot) and is now in the second arc (the Black Moon Clan plot). At the moment, the series has only planned for 26 episodes, but hopefully once the show begins its TV serialization, us fans might be lucky enough to see the other three story-arcs re-animated. As it is a modern tradition in Japan, the studio has began releasing individual Blu-Ray volumes containing two episode each per disc. While the sets include many special bonus collectibles to entice fans to buy them, the episodes have also been corrected to fix any animation errors in the web-stream versions as the studio had to rush them to meet release deadlines. In order to do justice with my reviews, I will be evaluating the series via the Blu-Ray releases only. Enjoy!

The Limited Edition set (featured above) contains Acts 1-2 on Blu-Ray in Japanese without any subtitles. Only special features on the disc are the Creditless OP-ED Themes, but there are a bunch of physical collectibles included, such as a bracelet and charm, a music box that plays an orgel version of Moon Pride, a 28-page character artbook, and an OP-ED storyboard artbook. The set is very pretty, but very pricey for only two episodes. There is also a Regular Edition Blu-Ray, or the DVD Edition as well. Please note that the Blu-Ray discs are Region A encoded, meaning they will work on North American video-players, but the DVD is Region-2 encoded, meaning it will only work in Japan or an a Region-Free player. For those wondering, VIZ Media has already licensed Sailor Moon Crystal in North America and does plan on dubbing/subbing the series, though no release dates have been confirmed.

Over the last half year, Crystal has been met with heavy praise, but also heavy criticism. As always, I try to be as objective as possible and explore both sides of things, therefore this review will include a list of GOOD Things and BAD Things for your consideration. I will also review each episode separately.

Act. 1 USAGI -SAILOR MOON-

I think at this point it goes without saying that I’m a big-time Moonie, so it’s a huge deal for me to see this series revamped and brought back to life. During my first run-through of the episode, my jaw was on the floor and I don’t recall blinking, so I definitely had to re-watch it to actually be aware of the events. From the beginning, the intro sequence (which is absolutely beautiful by the way) paints the tone of what is to be expected in this new Anime; there is a moonlight legend and that is what’s going to be most important in this version of the show. The start so far seems very familiar with Usagi waking up late and literally falling down the stairs; that’s a win for the good old days right there. I love the little details included here and there, like when she put the pin in her hair under her buns; I mean, who has not wondered how she gets them to stay up there in place all day? When Usagi meets Luna, it becomes abundantly clear that this series will be just as brazen as the Manga, considering she steps on Luna and kisses her too. I laughed. It is nice to see Usagi’s house again, her bedroom, her mother, the new and improved Ms. Haruna, geeky Umino and, of course, Naru. Evidently the story now takes place more into the future as the settings are very modernized, and I really like this. Seeing the energetic streets around Naru’s home is so refreshing, with chatter, cars, fancy buildings, etc… This episode makes it all seem like a fresh and clean start. At the point where Usagi meets Mamoru for the first time, it is abundantly clear that comedy is not the goal of this series as much as it was in the 90s; the music sets the tone for more meaningful moments. I find the script it much more realistic, especially when Usagi asks herself, “Why the hell is he wearing a suit in the middle of the day?” It clicked for me that the mission here is to have things make more sense, and so far TOEI is doing a good job of that. I was worried about how they would keep the CROWN Arcade current, but alas the Game CROWN Cafe is born. They definitely made the game machines more futuristic and really pimped out that Sailor V game. Seeing Usagi get kicked out of her own home over her bad grades brought back so many memories and I really enjoyed the loyalty kept in that scene. We get to the classic first transformation scene, but I will touch on that more below. I’m a little sad that Keiko Han didn’t also reprise her role as Luna here, but one can only ask for so much. Also, it’s a shame she didn’t shit-out the brooch in this series like she did in the 90s. Boring… Let’s talk about the newly-designed enemy: HUGE changes here because the setting is no longer some random parallel demon universe, but actually a castle base up in the Arctic. Jadeite looks really childish in his redesign, but I’m assuming that it might be that way in the Manga too. It was interesting to hear the monster-of-the-day actually mention she tied up Naru’s real mother in the basement, because one really had to wonder what happened in the original Anime. I like the glass tube she uses to collect the energy, and it makes more sense to me to summon the human slaves from their homes, though they got there REALLY fast. I think above everything, my favourite moment in this episode is when Sailor Moon runs outside of the jewelry store to see the man whose words encouraged her to fight. When she stared up at the moon and saw Tuxedo Mask, my heart melted. I feel there is more love in this story than in the original, and I endorse this 100 percent. I absolutely love this first episode and it made me fall in love with Sailor Moon all over again.

Act. 2 AMI -SAILOR MERCURY-

So right off the bat it appears Crystal is going to waste no time as Ami is introduced even before the Opening Theme plays; I’m personally okay with this though, because there really was never much of a gap between the three initial guardians meeting for the first tie. I like the clarification that these students are learning English because I feel like I now believe that they go to school and actually learn. I’m beginning to notice that questions are finally being asked and answered. For example, Usagi gets home from school and asks Luna if she intends to live in that house with her forever, and I like that because in the 90s Anime it was just a given. Though, one thing that floors me is the underground communications center in the arcade that is just there… Who installed that place? Who pays the electricity bill? Who cleans the dust? And who taught Luna computer linguistics? Also, why is Ami’s school uniform so frumpy and her hair so messy? I thought she was perfect all around… A lot of interesting things to wonder about still. Moving forward, I really like this rendition of Usagi meeting Ami for the first time. It reminds me of the way PGSM handled it, which was very cute and showcased the softness of Ami’s character. Okay, so although I didn’t like the way Usagi’s brooch came into existence in the first episode, I like the way the pens were received in this one. I am really digging the new age technology. I even noticed the computer desktop was running at least Windows 7. On an outside topic, can I just say how much I loved all of the memes that hit the Internet regarding the infamous ‘Usagi on the computer‘ moment? Goodbye floppy-disk; hello CD-ROM! Goodbye old CPU; hello purple laptop! Just beautiful. Unfortunately, I was sad that there wasn’t even some sort of special animation during Usagi’s Moon Power transformation. Blah much? The battle scene that follows is more or less the same as what we’ve seen before, so no complaints there. I like that Sailor Moon uses her ultrasonic-waves attack again because that was just so short-lived in the original series. As for Mercury Power Make-Up? See my thoughts below. There was a nice cute moment when Tuxedo Mask rescued Sailor Moon from sudden death. Overall, it is a very familiar episode, but definitely very modernized. Alas, the episode is not even over and we’re already catching a glimpse of Rei at the Hikawa Shrine. DEFINITELY no time wasted here! I’m beginning to notice a pattern here: every time the Ending Theme starts, I smile and wipe a tear from my eye because I’m just that happy about this series. I’m on-board so far!

Things you will like.

  • The accurate adaptation of the Manga: There are definitely a ton of similarities between this episode and the first episode of the 90s Anime, which shouldn’t be surprising since the series is based off a Manga. However, after doing research I came to realize that TOEI Animation did a really impressive job paralleling almost every frame of animation to every frame of the Manga. Although I have never much been into the Manga nor have I read all of it entirely, this should finally please some audiences who have long argued that the original Anime deviated too much from the actual story and included too many random fillers. The acting rumor is that Crystal only became possible with the blessing of Naoko Takeuchi, her official condition being for it to honor her works in the way the original Anime did not (according to her opinion). For those who may not have known, Sailor Moon was an unusual case where the Manga was not well developed before the Anime series began; they basically took place at the same pace. This more likely is due to the fact that Takeuchi started her series with the two Codename: Sailor V serializations and due to that popularity, the Sailor Moon Manga and Anime were birthed at roughly the same time. This often created a conflict where TOEI Animation would end up producing episodes based on what Manga chapters Takeuchi finished, but would then hit a stump waiting for her next chapter to publish. Obviously the studio had deadlines to meet, so they would then proceed to make up their own episodes with side-stories to fill the gaps. I think that when you look at it from Takeuchi’s perspective as a creator, it doesn’t come as a surprise to know she was not a fan of the Anime as it ended up quite differently from the Manga, making it less of an adaptation and more of an interpretation of her works. WELL, Crystal should make her really happy considering that (according to expert fans) it follows the Manga perfectly. There is, however, a serious void created by this and I touch on that below.
  • The return of the real Sailor Moon: Hands-down, this Anime would not be worth anything if Kotono Mitsuishi did not reprise her role as Usagi Tsukino. I had no idea that Mitsuishi was so developed and starred in so many roles, but I’m not surprised because she is TRULY talented. I might argue she’s one of the best voice actresses ever mostly because she puts so much emotion into her roles as if she is actually that character. She did this so well in the original 90s Anime that it is hard to imagine anyone else doing justice to Usagi. Granted, I still liked ANZA, Marina Kuroki, and Sawai Miyuu for their respective interpretations of the role too, but for Anime there is non other that Mitsuishi. So far in these episodes, her performance is on par and it is most definitely the same voice she once again lends to the character, which creates all kinds of nostalgia, especially when she yells, “Moon Prism Power Make-Up!” The only criticism I will give is that in the 90s Anime, the quirkiness of the animation allowed for the theatrical voice of Mitsuishi to be better believed, but here we get such a polished drawing style that at times you might think Usagi looks too pretty to sound so much like a dork. Thankfully, despite the style chosen here, she is a pretty guardian, but is also the same old ditz we all once loved so much. It will take some getting used to, but by the will of God we have Kotono Mitsuishi to guide us through it.
  • The brand-spanking-new Moon Prism Power Make-Up: There has been very negative feedback regarding this topic, and I’m not going to even try to entertain why people don’t like it because I’m all for it. I’ve included the new transformation sequence below so you can watch for yourself and be your own judge. So, TOEI Animation decided to throw their budget into the transformations and theme songs by implementing some CGI into the series, and it seems like fans aren’t on-board with this. “Why,” I ask. They did this a lot with the Digimon series and more titles from what I’ve heard. I think those elements of the show are the most important (at least I grew up liking those parts a lot) and I feel like every effort should have been put into them, as so the company did. I absolutely love Sailor Moon’s transformation. Some argue that TOEI knows nothing of CGI or how to properly colour, but I think it was epic. I loved the the beauty of the angles and lighting used in conjunction with the perfect music. It was everything I would have ever wished for as an upgrade to what we saw in the past. I like the fact that she’s using the original brooch to transform; I can’t understand why the 90s Anime featured such an ugly down-played brooch instead. The upgraded pose and speech are also pretty well done. I couldn’t ask for better. The only huge disappointment? I wish we received bedazzled attack sequences too, and that is not something we got in this episode (and will not get anywhere else in the series either!). If we run with the fact that Sailor Moon uses nearly a different attack in each chapter of the Manga, then it makes a little more sense to not go all out, and like I said before, one can only ask for so much. I am just very happy with what I got to see so far.
  • The new and fresh soundtrack: I want to profess my love for the original Sailor Moon soundtrack and all of the amazing music of Takanori Arisawa (a huge talent we lost way too soon). I am a gigantic fan of the Sailor Moon Music Collections and I still listen to them all the time. This being said, what we get in Sailor Moon Crystal is NOTHING AT ALL similar to what we were used to back then. This isn’t surprising at all given that music, much like film and animation, evolves so much so often. The question is, “Do we like it?” The answer, to me, is yes. While I liked the sassy, adventurous, classical, and instrumental ways of Arisawa, Yasuharu Takanashi gives us a different take on Sailor Moon that is much needed to suit the new animation. The initial Anime featured plenty of goofy melodies that paved the way for all of the comedy in the series, but here we get a more serious rendition with themes of justice, romance, and struggle. Some have argued that the music is a tad generic, but I would fire back saying that music in general these days is generic and less articulate than what it was in the 90s. I actually enjoyed the prelude, guardian themes, battle tracks, and ballads a lot. I’ve heard that the music especially resembles that of PreCure, another Anime series Takanashi has composed for, but I haven’t really seen it, nor do I plan on it. Maybe this would bother me if I did see the similarities firsthand myself, but it’s not uncommon for a composer to reuse concepts, especially if they worked well in their favor previously. As for the theme songs… it took a while for the Opening Theme Moon Pride (featured below) to grow on me, but I blame that mostly on Momoiro Clover Z because I hate them. Yes, let’s get five chicks who can’t sing and make them represent one of the most successful and globally popular shows on Earth. Kudos there TOEI. At first I found the song way to girly and hyper active, but upon listening to it a few times without the vocals, I learned that voices can go a long way. On the other hand, the Ending Theme Gekkou (also featured below) I really like, except that (once again) these horrible singers took it into the wrong direction. It was a treasure to find out that this song was composed by Akiko Kosaka, the great musician behind the songs of the Sailor Moon Musicals and some themes from the old Anime, like Moon Revenge and Tuxedo Mirage. If only there was another group performing both songs, I’d say everything in the music world is perfect, but who knows, maybe they will grow on me… MAYBE. As an aside, you can find out where to purchase Moon Pride / Gekkou here and snag the Crystal Original Soundtrack here.
  • The polished artwork pieces: While I have much to say about the animation below, I must say that some of the still art in the show is just absolutely stunning. If you look through this review, you will see that Crystal abandoned the short video-clip ‘Subtitle’ and ‘Eyecatch’ sequences in favor of these beautiful silhouette illustrations. Some might call it another cop-out, but I have always liked the silhouette usage in the original Anime series and I’m glad they kept that idea for the Ending Theme as well. At the end of each episode is a ‘To Be Continued’ still featuring French words, while the ‘Eyecatch’ shows the English logo for the series (all images pictured in this article). On an aside, I even like that the Japanese Crystal logo hast the English words in it too. I appreciate these small details as it tells me TOEI made some effort to acknowledge that this show will become internationally viewed. Outside of the actual episodes, there are a few good pieces that TOEI has unveiled for the series, starting with the first-look image. I liked the idea of the animation being similar to the Manga because they could have chosen some other random style we’d all really hate. Additionally, I really am in love with the Blu-Ray cover-art pieces (except for Mars, which you will see in the third review article). A lot of fans have been criticizing the proportions of the limbs, back, and breasts of the guardians, but I think that this is just the style of the show. After all, let’s be honest… Naoko Takeuchi’s drawings are all random and all over the place as she scarcely ever sticks to a standard, especially with her characters’ long and lanky limbs. Oh no! Shoot me, for I have dishonored our great leader… If Sailor Moon fans can mock TOEI Animation’s work, I don’t see why we can’t have issues with Takeuchi’s either. Fans have gone on to create ‘fixed versions‘ of the artwork to show how flawed the official artwork is; I get this, and I understand it. However, I feel like if we stoop this low level with Crystal, then we can go on to mess with the 90s Anime, and this is what no one seems to realize: fairness. We have to accept that there is a reason why the artists made the decisions they did, and quite frankly I don’t see why we have to poke at everything. I do agree we could be given better, but considering the alleged low-budget aspect of Sailor Moon Crystal, I really do like what I see. This Blu-Ray cover is absolutely flawless and as soon as I got a hold of it, I started using it for every profile I have online. I wish to see more of it outside of just the home video releases and with more of the characters.

Things you might not like.

  • The clearly low-budget animation style: While I sang the praises of Sailor Moon Crystal above, I must now shift gears into reality and acknowledge some of the heavy criticism the show has met with. I’ll start with the animation… Now, around the time of the premiere, it became a known fact that TOEI outsourced the show to other smaller animation studios (TOEI Philippines being one of them), meaning that the priority for this project isn’t high on their list in comparison to whatever other shows they’re mastering at the moment. Outsourcing often results in less than acceptable results because you are depending on lesser-equipped studios to complete goals at a topnotch level, when really they won’t care to achieve those results. I promised I would only judge the polished Blu-Ray material, but I have to touch on the fact that the online web-stream is really the first impression the audience will get. Also, consider only the die-hard rich fans will explore the home video option if the first impression does not live up to the standard. Episode one is pretty consistent, but there was a huge issue with the eyes in episode two that really made people cringe. It made everyone look at the overall quality of the animation and revealed that the characters are really lanky in many shots and disproportionate. Now, to be fair, the proportions in the original Anime were all over the map too, but the series was filled with comic relief to back that up. This is a 2014-2015 production and should really be showcasing innovation in the field of animation, and unfortunately as each episode premieres, it looks like less and less effort goes into the art. Another interesting thing I found was that it does not seem that TOEI is working on the episodes well in advance, because the end previews are so lackluster and you get the idea that things were rushed. While I am immensely grateful for the Blu-Ray releases fixing the errors, it’s sad that so many things need to be fixed. Episode two showcased a lot of changes made to the character’s faces and hair, which tells me that there is no definitive style guide for the animators to follow, which seems really unorthodox. It has been confirmed that not only is the show relatively low-budget, but the response has been very negative because of the animation quality primarily. The show will be hitting TV broadcast next month in an effort to gain sponsors who will shell out money as income for TOEI, and it is my deepest hope that this move will allow for a better quality product. Again, heed my point… the initial web-stream is sad, but thankfully the studio is making every effort to fix the mistakes afterward, which is why my review here is generally good.
  • The fast pace of the show: Now, if my first point was a big reason why the critical response to Sailor Moon Crystal has been bad, then this is an even bigger reason: people are afraid of how fast everything is going. I mentioned before that this version of the Anime has been closely following the Manga. Well, it turns out that the winning point that I thought would please everyone is another big issue for the community. The Manga, being a comic book, is quite fast-paced and devoid of any fillers. When you’re reading, your imagination and speed of reading tends to slow down things for your mind to process and build a story. Apparently, you can’t just copy that recipe into a show, which I would have never known until watching Crystal. In these first two episodes you don’t really feel the brunt of this too much because Usagi only had a few random adventures prior to meeting Ami in the original Anime, but work this math out… The 90s Anime contained the Dark Kingdom saga into 46 episodes, and Crystal contained it into 13 and a half! THAT’S CRAZY! Think how condensed the entire thing is, especially with the episodes being less than 30 minutes and even shorter omitting the Opening/Ending Themes, transformations, and previews. However, this is what Naoko Takeuchi wanted: an exact adaptation of her works. The Manga contained the entire first season plot into 13 episodes, and so Crystal more or less did the same thing. I feel like fans are failing to realize that you get what you ask for. When Sailor Moon Crystal was announced, every idiot online was harping about wanting an accurate retelling of the Manga; well, it doesn’t get more accurate than a frame-by-frame copy. The obvious side-effect here is that without any filler episodes, there is little room for character development. We don’t see the bonds between Usagi and her friends here as we certainly did in the past. The whole thing is very rushed and kind of leaves you less emotionally connected to what you’re watching. On the other hand, I argue that this is one of those things where it’s not as disastrous as everyone claims it to be. Let’s be honest, we all know exactly what is going to happen in the story and exactly what to expect at the end. Do we need to spend countless episodes establishing what we already know? I highly doubt a slew of oblivious new fans are watching this series, and even if they are, they have the Manga, classic Anime, musicals, and live-action to reference from if they need more depth. I’ll admit that I would have rather seen TOEI use the full 26 episodes on the Dark Kingdom (which is what we all expected), but in light of a non-existent budget, I completely get why they would try to shove the Black Moon Clan in there as well (on the off chance the show doesn’t make it past 26 episodes). You see, as much as you all bitch and complain about hating Crystal for these shortcomings, if you focus your energies into seeing the positive things, maybe we will see the whole series revamped and not just two out of five seasons. Think about that!
  • The less than amazing Mercury Power Make-Up: In the second episode we get to see Sailor Mercury’s transformation; now this I wasn’t too impressed with to be honest. I feel like in the 90s Anime Sailor Mercury’s transformation was always the least exciting, and to me this is a huge injustice because there is so much one can do with the element of water. Thankfully, we were blessed with Ami’s First Love where she got some special treatment that rectified her boring transformations. As for Crystal, I realize that I have not yet reviewed far enough to show the other guardians’ transformations, but once again hers is the worst out of the bunch. There’s no action of any kind or major use of water the way that Mars uses fire, Jupiter uses lightning, or Venus uses light ribbons. Also, there is a lot of time spent lighting up the Mercury sign on her forehead… Big fail here. I wonder why she, the most popular one, gets such blah treatment?
  • The average audio mix: Don’t get me wrong, I did very much enjoy the sound quality and mastering of sound effects, music, and vocals in these two episodes. However, in this age of high definition entertainment (and lets take a moment to say thanks for the 1080p goodness we’ve been lucky enough to receive), why is there only a 2.0 audio track??? I’m shocked! I can’t even begin to understand why a technologically advanced and wealthy studio in nerdy Japan would not give us a surround sound mix on an HD production. It baffles me considering just the other day TOEI started re-rendering some of the old Sailor Moon Music Collections from the 90s in a new high-resolution format. The tracks have been reproduced into topnotch above-CD quality versions and are now on sale here. A part of me suspects that with the original Anime being re-aired in Japan soon in high definition, TOEI is gearing up to enhance the audio as well. So… why the average treatment in Sailor Moon Crystal? Is it that low-budget? I’ll admit this is not a crushing issue, but it really bothers me because most modern-day Anime is capitalizing on the full HD experience and giving 5.1 and sometimes 7.0 audio tracks. My very sensitive ears can tell that Crystal would sound so much more grandiose with more channels of audio to fool around with. With only two channels, you can’t really appreciate the new music or the freshness of the voices and sound effects. I’m praying someone out there agrees with me and maybe unveils a better track for the North American release, though I somehow doubt this will happen.
  • The lack of behind-the-scenes material: This point relates a little bit more to the actual Blu-Ray releases because I should probably talk about that a little bit. The sets are quite expensive and while, yes, they come with nice collectibles and pristine design elements, is it worth the price paid for just two episodes? Definitely not. I must say that in a digital age where (usually) most aspects of production are recorded for reference, there is a huge lack of bonus material on the discs. The bare minimum is the Creditless Opening and Ending Themes. Where are the voice acting sessions? The secrets behind the animation process? Interviews with the key production players? The press releases? Some kind of speech from the creator? Maybe Japan isn’t into things like this, but I feel like there needs to be more incentive for people to want to buy these sets. I reviewed the North American Sailor Moon Blu-Ray release here, and while my review was not that great, the studio did a good job of providing a lot of extra content and the sets include many episodes with dubbing and subtitles for a much lower price. Considering that the web-stream is subtitled on most of the sites hosting it, would it have killed TOEI to add subtitles to the Blu-Ray sets given the subtitles are already translated and prepared? Of course being the greedy company that they are, they are probably expecting that to make a good profit off the future English dub and sub sets bound to be released by VIZ. Apparently if you purchase all of these Limited Edition sets, you can redeem for a collector’s box that will house all of the sets in the end, but prepared to spend close to $1000 in the process, easily.

Well, I think I’ve written quite a lot here for my first review of the series and most likely the following articles will be much shorter given that I won’t have to introduce some of these concepts again. I hope my words shed some kind of light on the way you will or do view this series. As always, if you really love the show and all it has to offer, please support the official releases and pay for the content as it gives to the people who worked hard to make it for you. I realize the Internet makes it so easy to download things, but the entertainment industry cannot survive on just piracy. That’s my inspirational speech of the day, and I hope you have enjoyed my words! Here are some treats to tingle your senses until next time:

The Order: 1886

Game review time! This one comes out of the blue for me since I really had no intention of buying this game because I wasn’t really following the development; in fact, up until about two weeks ago, I had no idea a game like this was on horizon. When I saw the Trailers start hitting TV, I was hooked and just knew I had to get it. Ready At Dawn studios has released its newest flagship PlayStation 4-exclusive game The Order: 1886 on February 20th. From what I’ve gathered, this game was much talked about since E3 for it’s movie-like approach, rendering the game as a cinematic adventure through an alternate version of history. Its release was also postponed, which always gets the gamers mad, but also gets them excited because delays usually entail a better product. However, it seems that the gaming community is very dissatisfied with this title for a magnitude of reasons and it has generally received very average to below average ratings and reviews. I must say I am quite shocked and have to disagree! Most of the reviews I’ve done up until now have been straight out of my own opinion, but this is the first time where I actually went trolling the web to find out what it is that people seem to dislike so much about this game. As always, I’m very open-minded, so I can see what the gaming society is getting at; therefore, I will have to stick to a format of GOOD Things versus BAD Things in order to be fair (since I do find validity in what I’ve read so far). Here goes:

Things you will like.

  • The movie-like experience you will have: I wasn’t quite familiar with Ready At Dawn, so I did a little bit of research and found out that their team consists of ex-Naughty Dog staff. This sheds a lot of like on The Order, a game that is very much like playing through a grandiose movie (something they’ve built upon a lot in the more recent game The Last Of Us). For starters, the entire game is displayed with a 2.39:1 aspect ratio (basically the standard widescreen format you would see when watching any modern day Hollywood movie), which is something I haven’t seen done before for an entire game, cinematics and gameplay combined. The colours, the lighting, and the camera angles all add to the film experience in the game. One of the greatest achievements you can initially see in The Order is the graphic quality, which is maintained throughout the cutscenes and gameplay; actually, because the widescreen never changes and the quality never lessens, it can be hard to tell when you are supposed to just watch or actually use your game controller, but to me this is a good thing. The next generation of games that have hit the PS4 have all more or less done a great job of maintaining the same good quality in and out of the cinematic sequences, but in this game there is great fluidity and practically no game-loads, meaning that the experience is almost non-stop and and gripping. When you combine the story, characters, music, and visual beauty of the game world into the equation, The Order definitely seems to be something you’d love to watch in a theater aside from just playing the game.
  • The intricacy of the story: I never really took an interest in history growing up, but I found in recent years I’ve been getting behind it, especially European history as it is a big theme in many of the games I’ve played. The Order takes place in Whitechapel, London during 1886-ish (DUH…) and combines a few different historical events with some fictional ones as well. This is classic trademark Naughty Dog as well, best seen in the Uncharted series. From what I understood playing the game, the story revolves around the Knights of the Round Table as descended from King Arthur who act as special agents of the Queen that are highly trained in advanced combat. They take care of special tasks and covert operations, whereas the police accomplish lesser tasks like protecting citizens and dealing with trivial crimes. In reality, the knights are charged with capturing or eliminating rebels who aim to act against the interests of the Queen. On the fictional side of things, the knights now have to deal with creatures known as half-breeds; that is, humans who can transform into lycanthropes (more human-like werewolves) that prey on innocent humans to survive. When the knights are physically harmed, they can consume a mystical elixir known as Blackwater, which magically heals their wounds immediately. At a later point in the game vampires are introduced as well, and the writers manage to tie in one particular Dracula-figure to actually being Jack The Ripper. Scandal really erupts in the game when the knights find out that their own leaders are covering up a ploy to ship out these monsters via The East India Company into different countries around the world to cause havoc that will ensure a need for more war and power. They then start to see the light the rebels have been shining for quite some time and begin to make decisions of their own. I have to give Ready At Dawn credit for being able to combine so many different avenues of history with legendary fantasy. I enjoyed the fact that the cinematic approach to the game made it easy to understand the rich storyline, baring in mind that some games get way to complicated and leave you wondering about things forever. Thankfully, this is not one of them, and the ending of the game definitely paves way for a continuation, which I would gladly love to see one day.
  • The array of characters and great acting: Nothing like a great cast to sell a movie, so it should be no exception here that we’ve got some good talent in this film-like game. The game focuses on protagonist Sir Galahad (portrayed by the very talented voice of Steve West), an elderly knight of the round table who is nothing less of a true hero. He partners with a female knight Lady Igraine (Alice Coulthard) who seems to have feelings for him, but is definitely a hardcore fighter, which suits his purpose. Then we bring on the bigger actors, starting with Graham McTavish playing Sir Percival, a very well established knight who is mentor to Galahad and Frederik Hamel playing the Marquis de Lafayette, a Frenchmen brought into the knighthood for his genius skills displayed during the French revolution. Personally, he’s the best eye candy you ladies and gays will get in this game. I also want to mention the very beautiful Tehmina Sunny playing Queen Lakshmi, sexy leader of the rebels and possibly another love interest for Galahad. Being the FOB I am, I really liked the inclusion of the Hindi language and Indian characters into the game and the ever so sly PocahontasJohn Smith innuendo introduced into the story. I feel that because the idea was to make the game movie-like, the emphasis on the casting was a little more important in this title in that actual actors played the roles, unlike in most videogames where we get the same common circle of seasoned vocal cast. This is one of those cases where the cast does not equal the face of the character much, so there’s really a reliance on the acting skills of the actors/actresses. There’s a lot of emotion that came out of the performances; we clearly see Galahad’s persistence for justice, Igraine’s ruthlessness in battle, Lafayette’s womanizing ways with the ladies, and Lakshmi’s bold leadership skills throughout. The way the studio rendered the characters in the game to act out what the cast verbalized was just fantastic. I didn’t find myself thinking, “This character is useless,” or, “The voice behind this character is horrible.” All around, you can see a great effort was made in developing relationships and giving persona to characters that look real, but aren’t actually real at all.
  • The beautiful details of the game space: The Order is definitely not one of those open-concept games where you can go roaming wherever you like and get into side-missions and what not; the developers really stuck to the script and made the game movement linear, which I would normally argue is limiting, but it makes the game more like a flowing movie (the point at hand). While the scope is not too wide, the settings that are featured have great detail and cover good territory per chapter. In the beginning the player explores the underground catacombs that houses the prisoners of London, followed by the above-ground streets of Whitechapel at the time. There are a lot of freaky settings in the game, like abandoned train tunnels and destroyed hospitals (and lest I forget to mention a lot of blood all around for the gore fans). The player gets to invade mansions and discover underground bases, altogether showcasing a lot of different environments. There is no map navigation for this game, but the amount of detail in each background and depth to each location is just perfect.
  • The wide array of weaponry, technology, and combat included: I admitted in earlier blog posts that I am not a great shooter and that it is definitely a work in progress; this being said, I also have learned that it often is the game’s responsibility to make the shooter experience good as opposed to bad. I like the combat in this game. While the game doesn’t allow for plenty melee opportunities, there are some impressively intense shootouts the player will have to go through from beginning to end of this game. There were a couple of instances where the battles were really intense, but not necessarily difficult if you give it your focus. The wide array of weapons and technology did not let me down at all. You get the standard shotguns and pistols, but then upgrade into crazy tech like laser zappers and fire cannons. There is a lot of free range for the player to choose the kind of weapon going into battle, allowing for one small piece and a larger piece on-hand at all times. The game also provides a balance between stealth and lethal force approaches, which means a lot to me because I absolutely hate games where you constantly have to go in quiet when it just seems impossible to do so. Another added treasure I found was that your allies who fight alongside you ACTUALLY fire, hit, and kill enemies with you! IT’S A MIRACLE! They’re not useless like Donald and Goofy (sorry Kingdom Hearts fans…)! There are a few boss-battle-esque moments in the game, mostly fighting the lycan beasts, and this is where the gore and bloodshed really darkens the world of The Order. I’m quite sensitive to horror themes because I’m a little girl on the inside, but I must say it definitely added a thrilling layer to the game. The game also heavily uses reaction commands (those fancy moments when you need to push the button displayed on the screen in order to do or avoid something epic), which I’m all for, but might have been too much (discussed more below). Overall, though, I had a great time working my way through The Order and never felt any part was too hard or too easy.

 

Things you might not like.

  • The length of the game: This is the number one thing that MURDERED the ratings and reviews for The Order, and quite frankly I have to agree: the game was way too short. I, the person who sucks at videogames yet enjoys playing them, finished this game in two days and that is a record for me. I don’t recall even putting that much effort into it and I did have my fair share of repeat battles. I have to wonder WHY a game that has a lot of things going for it would have such a short story and set of chapters… I’ve read that it has to do with budget, which is really sad because the bottom line is that the story, the characters, the music, the environment, the combat style, and the cinematic beauty make you want to keep going, and then you reach the end and think, “DAMN. That’s it?” I feel to add salt to the wound, the game’s previous postponement also poses the question: “If it wasn’t postponed, would it have been even shorter?” I definitely get the idea behind it being a steep $70 you lose for a short game. Do not misinterpret this as, “The ending sucked and I hated it,” because I feel like that’s the spin the review community is giving to this game. I look at it more of something that was just very short-lived. The story built on many of the characters and there are more plots that could have extended the game. The budding romance between a knight and a rebel, the jealousy between a knight and her mentor’s lover, the Frenchmen who’s kind heart showed much adoration for his elderly knight, etc… I’m willing to give Ready At Dawn some mercy over this because it definitely seems that this game is the start of what will become another flagship series for the gaming industry and Sony. When we look back on the initial games that started series’ like Assassin’s Creed and Uncharted, we wonder how those games birthed such successful sequels, and I have no doubt that The Order will follow suit next time around.
  • The slew of reaction commands is a little too much: As I mentioned briefly above, the game relies on reaction commands a little too much throughout. We’re talking mashing the X, holding the triangle, quickly tapping the circle, including swiftly moving the analog up, down, or sideways to avoid sudden death. The hardest battles in the game are hard only because of the chain of reactions the player must perform, especially battling the elder lycan in the middle part of the game. It gets confusing and becomes a skill to memorize the patterns after you die a few times (that Blackwater only heals you once!). This is another point that critics docked scores for, and I don’t blame them. In a lot of cases, you will be watching and scene and then suddenly an X appears on the screen and before you catch yourself, Galahad is dead. There is also this weird advanced reaction where you have to steer his body into a specific direction quickly and then mash a certain key in order to not die, and that gets annoying too. I noticed plenty of this in Uncharted 3 too, and I feel like it’s one of those things where they think, “OMG! This is cool tech! Let’s use it every way possible because we can!” Well, just because you can doesn’t mean you should.
  • The lack of freedom and extra content: While I praised The Order for it’s beautiful world above, I can see why most gamers are dissatisfied with the game space. We’ve moved into this age of next-generation gaming and a big part of that is the freedom of movement the players get; this is monopolized heavily in games like Destiny and Watch_Dogs where one can venture very far distances. The Order is not like that. At every point, the player is steered into a certain direction and there is no opportunity to get lost or go adventuring. In the defense of the developers, I feel like that kind of open concept would not have made the whole movie experience possible. I also feel that this is another short-coming of the budget problems the studio must have faced. I would have loved to have seen a way for Galahad to explore London and meet with street-dwellers for side missions or encounter out-of-story mini-battles, but again, I think it could be something we see in future installments of this series of it makes it through. Otherwise, if you’re the kind of gamer that wants an endless adventure even after you finish the main story, this is not the game for you. When I look at it this way, I’m glad I used a gift card to get this game, or else maybe I wouldn’t have enjoyed it at all like all the others out there.

Overall, I see great potential for this game in the future and my hope is that the sales still grow despite the early reviews that have circulated. I did come across this video that redeemed my hopes a little, but then I saw this video and my hopes were shattered. One thing is for sure… there is A LOT of discussion online about this game. Reviewers are getting blunt words from gamers everywhere claiming it’s harsh criticism, but more reviews keep fighting back with evidence to back up their claims. To be honest, I’ve never seen sport like this over a game in a long time. You know what this means? You need to find out for yourself what you think of this game. Check out the versions available for purchase here, and look below for some Trailers that might hook you just as they hooked me!

Assassin’s Creed Unity

My dear friends, it is time for another review! This one has been sitting on my mind a lot since I’m still fighting my way through the game, but I think now is as good a time as any to talk about Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed Unity for PS4. Probably one of the most anticipated games of the year, this follow up to the ongoing franchise came out last month nearly half-a-year after the E3 World Premiere Trailer (seen below) left jaws dropped on the floor. I think for me, the first word that came to my mouth was ‘orgasmic’ because of the visual quality given to the video sequence. Secondly, I knew what I was looking at was Assassin’s Creed and not whatever Assassin’s Creed IV Black Flag was (because that was just some random pirate nonsense…). So all these months later, the game finally arrives… and it turns out it’s kinda weird. Actually, wow… what the heck happened to that trailer we saw? For some reason, this game is not the same as that video at all.

I know! That doesn’t sound very promising, but I decided it might be worthwhile to break this down into a list of the GOOD Things and a list of the BAD Things I found just for the sake of being fair. This is what I’ve come up with:

Things you will like.

  • The protagonist is smokin’ hot: I believe I mentioned this in a previous review, and I will say it again… we cast beautiful celebrities to play parts in movies because it attracts the audience to the screen, right? Why should videogames be any different? Assassin’s Creed 3 and Assassin’s Creed IV Black Flag failed (to me) when it came to presenting eye candy of any kind when the reality is that nowadays women and gay men play games too and want to see something stunning! I will admit, Ubisoft did a great job handling Ezio Auditore from the Assassin’s Creed 2 series and he is the character that attracted me to the series. While Roger Craig Smith‘s voice brought Ezio to life, he isn’t exactly an Ezio in real life given that the voice is forced talent and he looks nothing like our Italian assassin. However, Dan Jeannotte, though, is the real deal. Can we talk about how good-looking this guy is? Not to mention his freakin’ sexual voice? The funny thing is that he is such a perfect fit to star as Assassin Creed Unity‘s main hero, Arno Dorian, because of his great French accent. When he switches into French dialogue, a part of you just puts down the controller to hear the beauty of his speech. Arno as a character is interesting as he is fully fleshed out and defined from childhood throughout the game, allowing the audience to connect more with his journey. This game brought back the human side of the assassin’s that fall in love and understand the innocents they meet. I really missed that in the last two titles, which I couldn’t be bothered to finish. The designers put their best foot forward to give Arno a nice body, so when you get him into those advanced costumes you have something to look at for sure. It would appear that Arno became an assassin at age 21, possibly making our assassin one of the youngest to have joined the brotherhood, making it a lot more interesting to see this boy become a man. Upon further research, it would seem that Dan Jeannotte is no stranger to the series, having voiced minor roles in the previous two titles, and so it would seem the studio grew to like him enough for Arno. I don’t blame them because I like him for many things… All of this being said, just like a movie, a pretty face is not enough to drive a story.
  • The classic elements brought back to the series: As I mentioned above, it is nice to see that this game goes back to the grassroots of the series that really did not exist in Black Flag. We’re back on land in the big cities of France and we get to indulge again street theft, assassin contracts, treasure box hunting, climbing buildings for viewpoints, and zone wars between officials and Templars. However, Unity takes it to another level with more side journeys, such as special kinds of treasure, COOP/Grand Theft missions, mystery case files, and many other Paris stories. It’s almost like an overload when you open the world map to see so many icons present. The fact is that there is a lot to do in this game and it’s most definitely something I missed. The weaponry and equipment has been a bit simplified in that you no longer have to visit blacksmiths to shop;, in fact, this game only has one kind of street vendor that caters to medical consumables and ammo of all kinds. While there is no more notoriety system in the game, walking the streets of Paris does allow enemies to spot you and for you to get into all kind of street fights, which never allows for a dull moment. The only thing I miss? Hiring prostitutes and backup for your missions! Though, I guess this is where the COOP thing comes into play. All-in-all, if you are a die hard of the classics in this series, you’ll love the nostalgia blast in this game.
  • The bigger open concept: The last great thing I’ll give to Unity is the wide ground it covers. This is not a new thing as even the older games had big ambitious maps, but I like how seamless it is in this game to freely travel far and wide. The missions make use of the grand space, taking Arno from one zone to the next for each task. Of course, if you get tired of the long runs, there is fast travel as well, which again is not a new concept to the games. What is new, however, is the amount of hustle and bustle in the game. There are people EVERYWHERE… I have to say at many times I wished there wasn’t so much action, but it definitely adds to the realism of France during the time period. The game makes use of portal jumps in the system, as well as exclusive travel to different destinations off the map that allows the players to see an even wider array of settings. If you are the type of person who likes taking in the sights in videogames (like myself), you will like this game for that.

 

Things you might not like.

  • The game engine is on crack: Let me make one thing clear: this game is anything BUT ‘next generation’. I remember reading via my Twitter feed many complaints on gaming sites reporting outrage in the community over Unity. I didn’t bother to look into it until I actually played the game and realized during the very first cinematic cutescene that things were not right. What every engine they are using to generate characters, objects, and scenes is not responding fast enough to the camera angles and events onscreen. What does that mean exactly? It means that the movie starts playing and as the main characters are talking, you see people magically popping up in the background, trees disappearing, hairlines growing out of thing air, etc… Now, I know better than anyone else that Assassin’s Creed makes use of a very good excuse, which is the Animus technology used by Abstergo Industries to relive the memories of the past in the game. However, you can tell this is not intentional like the desynchronizations or load screens in the game. It only gets worse as the game goes on… I can’t say how many times I’d be walking the streets of France and I’d see couples of people drop down from the sky and be placed in the game. Many times the enemies you fight will disappear into walls and get stuck like that too. Another crazy thing I noticed was that during missions where you are required to follow another character, you’d often be stuck waiting for the character to make a move? You’d actually have to shove the character onscreen or run around them to get them to remember where they have to take you. What kind of pathetic generator is this? I mentioned above that at times I felt there were too many people on the streets and I find this is the biggest downfall for Ubisoft in this title because their own system is not generating the content fast enough or seamlessly enough. For a game designed to march by PlayStation 4 standards, it utterly fails and is actually the worst I’ve seen since the PS2 days… Big miss for Ubisoft. I suppose, with all of this said, there is a reason why the CEO sent out this message:

  • The lack of effort is very apparent: While I commend Ubisoft for issuing the above personal statement to each registered gamer and for following up with patches and promises, there is really no amount of healing that can be done to fix this game. Why? Because, to me, from the beginning they didn’t work hard enough on it. I noticed, during most of the running around you do during this game, that the street characters repeat the same thing over and over again in the same voices… It kinda donned on me that there are not nearly as many unique voices in this game as there are tons of characters. I also noticed a lack of diversity in the lines, where you’d be fighting an enemy and he will say the same phrase to you 10 times in a row consecutively not realizing he is rambling on like a moron. I also have to say I didn’t quite understand the accents and dialogues in the game… Why is there so minimal French used in the game when it is main,y developed in Montreal??? The acting, with the exception of key actors like Dan Jeannotte fails big time in this game. While the face animation was something to marvel at (especially Arno’s sexy face), hair in this game is something to be laughed at; I actually shed a tear each time Arno removed his assassin’s hood to reveal that nappy straw head.. That is pretty said considering studios like Square-Enix have been mastering hair since the PS2 days. I feel the developers put more effort into the buildings, settings and adventure content of the game that the characters took a quality hit, and that really isn’t right considering the characters usually drive the story. Maybe a lot of these things can be blamed on the engine, but I don’t remember suffering these problems in the other Assassin’s Creed titles.
  • The mission expectations are too difficult: For my last critical point, let me take things in a different direction; the gameplay. Definitely the biggest boasting point for this game is the multiplayer interactive content, hence the title Unity. That is fine and dandy except for the biggest drawback of using this game console: PlayStation Plus. It is allowed to live and be there, but to make multiplayer content live only through this paid service is bullshit, considering it costs nearly $500 for the system and nearly $100 per game (in Canada at least). Haven’t we gamers paid our dues already? I had this problem with Destiny‘s online content too, though they at least offered a free month trial of Plus, which I gladly took advantage of. So what to do if you really don’t want to pay for the additional service, but want to play the game? Thankfully Ubisoft allows us to play all missions, including the COOP ones, solo! HOWEVER, like I mentioned above, the lack of effort given to the game is tremendous in that one would think the game would somehow modify the difficult of each 2-4-player mission for solo action. Just to confirm, no, it does not. You will be playing by yourself where a part of others should be helping you and this is not fair. It’s been a very long time since I’ve played a game where I had to restart the mission like a billion times, and this is like almost every single one (COOP at least). Yes, you can avoid  these missions and stick to the basic story guideline, but the only way to shape up for the main story is to play the side stories, so that doesn’t leave a lot of room for completion of the game. Another thing I noticed in this game is that it’s not as easy to earn money and the good armor costs and arm and a leg. The best part? Said armor doesn’t even defend you in gameplay. One bullet or strike from the enemy and you’re basically down and out. There are many instances where you end up surrounded and the only option is to flee. The game does encourage the players to make use of stealthy tactics, but it’s hard to sneak by one guard to enter a room of ten. It actually makes no amount of sense.

Now, I’m not sure how one should feel after reading everything I’ve posted. There are some good things, but there are equally bad things too. Maybe the best thing for you is to experience the game for yourself and draw your own logical conclusions. I find a lot of the time I am like this despite what other people say. Although, I do consider myself a great judge of character. Anyway, many will say that Assassin’s Creed Unity is far from similar to the trailer that came before it, but if you’re a die-hard fan of the series, you can always find out where to buy it here. For now, check out the Official Trailer below.

Destiny

[NOTE: This review was drafted back months ago so I do apologize for the delay...]

Holy crap… it has been A-G-E-S since my last post and now it’s just getting shameful. Anyway, I’m here to make it up by giving a stellar review of yet another amazing title to hit the gaming industry: Destiny. Anyone who owns a PS4 will be able to tell you that since its conception, this game was what defined the system as being ‘Next Generation’. Although it took some time for this game to finally release, I must say it was well worth the wait. A guy at work has been asking me to borrow the game, to which my response was this: “Listen, you BETTER get your ass out there and buy it yourself because you will NOT regret a penny spent and the developers deserve every said penny.” I stand by this statement, and here are the reasons why you should as well:

The landscapes you’ll get lost in.

This is no exaggeration… you CAN actually get a bit lost if you venture into every nook and cranny of Destiny! The game’s primary settings include a futuristic post-war Earth, Moon, Venus, Mar, and a special ‘Edge of the Universe’ setting too. Space travel is a big staple in this game, making it possible to roam freely on any of the above mentioned surfaces. What’s cool about this is the freedom factor in the game that allows you to play EITHER missions or simply farm the expanses for experience points. It is quite interesting to see the kinds of interpretations the designers had in mind for Venus (seeing as though this is the place we know the least about). Mars is dusty red and the Moon has craters, but in Destiny there are many abandoned buildings and advanced techs on each planet that give insight into how civilizations would have been built beyond the stars.

Cutting edge gameplay.

What killed me the most about Destiny was how much the game relied on its connection to Activision host servers and the fact that the entire game is based online, EVEN THOUGH IT DOESN’T LOOK LIKE IT! Although there may be times that gameplay isn’t possible due to server outages, essentially this game is built on the concept of networking and web interaction. All of the missions you play by yourself are actually generated in sync with PlayStation Network so that you will actually run into other users in the world playing the mission in your space too! This, to me, is quite interesting because it’s a little like this: the missions are scheduled online and when you play your story, you are playing according to a slot available to you so you’ll see anyone else playing the same time as you. Of course, the developers were smart enough to know to leave you be during boss missions and important scenes, but it’s awesome to know that you might randomly get a helping hand during shootouts! This game embodies what next generation is because there are no lags and loading screens, and the graphics are pristine during gameplay and movie sequences. What more can one ask for?

A shooter to end all shooters.

I’ve always sucked balls when it comes to first-person shooting games… I’m just not that good with aim and tactics! I’ve been getting used to it, though, because all of the titles I seem to pick up incorporate some form of shooting and weaponry. Destiny is disgustingly similar to the Halo series (most people will say that) in the armor, rifles, and even the enemy types,; YET, if you ask me, it’s like an upgraded version of the series because the possibilities are endless. Destiny employs a wide array of helmet, body, arm, and leg armor that can be upgraded throughout the game. What does that mean? That there are even more guns and heavy guns to choose from. I LOVE this about Destiny because there is a weapon for every person with a variety of magazines and rates of fire to master every mission. Unlike other games that can leave you stranded on levels because you’re starving for ammo, Desitny’s open concept allows the player to farm for ammunition at any point of battle.

A fair and wide array of challenges.

One of the biggest turn-offs for me in videogames is when the developers seem to expect that all gamers will love impossible missions and puzzles. I’ve touched on this before, but not all game consumers are nerds or experts! THANKFULLY, Activision planned out the most perfect game I’ve ever played in this regard… There was no challenge that was too hard to beat or had to be repeated a million times, and yet, the game possessed great missions and objectives that were far from easy. I adore the wide array of enemies to fight in this game; the Fallen remind me a lot of Halo enemies, while the Hive seems a little bit more like Dead Space (which still gives me nightmares). Then we get to the more challenging Vex that kind of put on the robot wars, and finally the Cabal who just kick a lot of ass with brute force. Of course, each species type has bigger bosses that provide a greater challenge and endless rampages, but God bless checkpoints. As I mentioned before, aside from the Story missions you can go on Patrol missions where you collect and accomplish bounties that level you up and give great rewards. There is also the Crucible side of the game to get into big fights that do not disappoint and the Strike missions that involve some great teamwork skills from you and your fellow players. Literally, there is not a dull moment to be had in this game.

You’re your own player.

Perhaps the most advanced aspect of Destiny is our ability to create our own very custom avatar. Choose a species and then choose the look, basically; you get to choose from Titans, Warlocks, or Hunters. On an aside, can I tell you HOW sexy my Warlock is? I wish I had a great enough screen capture to share, but just imagine a brown skin, white-haired God… oh wait, that exists! I’m so funny. Anyway, can you imagine your avatar gets generated seamlessly into the gameplay and cutscenes as if Activision had spent years fleshing out the details of YOUR character? Yeah. There is something to be admired about the player getting to play as their best representation, and to also replay the game as a different species each time. While you don’t really control the storyline, there is a little robotic sidekick known as your Ghost that you get to take you through each adventure and that relationship strengthens throughout the story. The bottom-line is that you’re not alone; the little guy is looking out for you too! The level of freedom you get to build your own character and add to the machines your character will use is just so unique these days, and Destiny permits this so effortlessly.

There are probably a million more in-depth reasons to purchase Destiny, but there are just a few things that I could think of that really makes it stand out. I did manage to finish the game a while back and I really enjoyed every second of it. I usually have one or two things to complain about, but I must say this… Destiny is perfect. I love it so much and it lives up to the next generation category. With all of this being said, take my word for it and head over to Destiny’s Website to pick your version and find out where to buy it! See the Official Trailer below.

Sailor Moon Blu-Ray

Dear people! I am INFINITELY sorry about the lack of posts in all these MONTHS. Life has been so hectic, but the time has finally come to begin updating and moving forward. I’ve been making oodles of changes to my personal life as of recently and now I should definitely be able to keep this gig going! All of that being said, today I’m reviewing none other than the long-awaited original Sailor Moon series Blu-Ray, which will be releasing next week on November 11th. For those that pre-ordered the set eons ago (like myself), Rightstuf shipped out orders early so some of us do have our copies already. I didn’t really get a chance to go in-depth yet (screenshots, watch the entire series, check out the DVDs, etc…) as I only just received it just today, but based on what I have seen already I definitely have a quick take on everything below. Enjoy!

The Limited Edition set (featured above) contains Blu-Rays AND DVDs of Episodes 1-23 (Part 1 of Season 1) in both Japanese and the new English dub, features a bunch of cool extras on the discs, contains a special Episode Guide artbook, and a boxset to hold this set and Part 2 (releasing in February 2015). For those who immediately pre-order the Limited Editions as they are made available, an exclusive Gift With Purchase is included additionally (the one for this set is already Out Of Print). There is also a Regular Edition planned for November 25th, or the DVD Edition as well.

Obviously I purchased the Limited Edition so my review will cover all of the bases. I think the quickest way for me to do this is make a list of the GOOD Things and a list of the BAD Things. Here goes:

Things you will like.

  • The physical package: Right off the bat, VIZ did a pretty good job with the design and authoring. I remember back to when VIZ was new to the North American market and they had just released InuYasha on DVD, it was like a young child discovered Photoshop and they bought the designs from him. The artwork was featured atrociously and the DVD menus had parts of the images that were not even masked properly. HOWEVER (years and years later), much improvement has been made as this set boasts perfection. Our friend Marco Albiero is responsible for all of the new and improved art we see here, but kudos to VIZ for using it well. Overall the package is shiny and pretty and the Episode Guide artbook is very great quality. The prints on the disc and even the dummy inserts in the boxset are very well done. No failures here, especially to whoever decided to make the space to hold the entire season. The Blu-Ray menus on each disc are also unique and well done too. HOWEVER, I did pop in the DVDs and was surprised to see that all the effort died right there with static boring menus… I guess the budget runs low somewhere? Overall, you can tell they put their best foot forward on making it a set you will WANT to own physically.
  • The new English dub: There are good things and there are bad things; let’s start with the good. It is such a great thing to know that after two decades, some people in the world feel it is a justice owed to us that this series get an uncut dub. People have asked for this for over 15 years and now everyone can shut the hell up because it is happening. I can see that VIZ took the effort to cast well as opposed to casting favoruites, as you don’t really see the common vocal cast they use for every freakin’ Anime dub. The great thing here is that we can once and for all put to bed what DiC did to us by giving accents and swings to the characters that did not fit the Japanese original at all. Naru is no longer Molly from the South, Umino is no longer Melvin the nerd-monster (he’s just a normal nerd now), and Beryl is more of an evil woman than an evil Queen ruler, which I think is VERY true to the character. It was interesting to hear the choice made for the Dark Kingdom characters, especially Zoicite; in short, I really like all of them. The enthusiasm in the acting is no joke and the sync is FLAWLESS so you can basically believe that is the real character. While we finally get to hear things like ‘make-up’, ‘bun-head’, and ‘Juuban District’, the dub is not without some fatal flaws, which I will cover below.
  • The extras: When a movie or TV-Show is prepping for home video release, these big media giants have to factor in this big question: “Why would someone who has seen this already want to pay money to see it again?” Golden answer: “Because on top of the fact that they liked what they say, they get to see extras that were previously withheld.” HENCE, THE VALUE OF EXTRAS! So we get the traditional Clean Opening/Ending, which I actually much appreciated now having in 1080p. I’m pretty sure these versions are not those that were transferred from the LaserDiscs so it’s great to get a new source. Aside from these, we get a few convention videos and a load of press-related videos regarding the release. Overall, this is pretty cool to see how fans reacted to the news of the revamp. I think my favourite extra is the Behind-The-Scenes dub recording. There was a lot of insight into how dubbing is done and how it was planned for this series. I thought it was interesting to know the cast were contracted, but not told who they would be voice-acting until they showed up for recording! The clip mostly features the voice actors Stephanie Sheh (Sailor Moon) and Robbie Daymond (Tuxedo Mask). Can I just say that if you do not know who this guy is, make sure you find out because he is SUPER cute and his voice is AMAZINGLY sexy (P.S. he has dimples!!!). Of course, for those that need it, there are also art galleries on the discs and trailers for other VIZ wonders. So far, all extras are in high definition, which wins them points. It would have been nice to get some other things from the Japanese side, such as interviews and commercials, but I don’t fail VIZ for this since the release is really all about us. Though, a dubbed 1080p Sailor Moon Crystal Trailer wouldn’t have hurt!
  • The completion factor: Now, even though I will go on to list the bad points below, perhaps the best reason to overlook everything and just BUY IT ALL is just simply that any fan will treasure this collection and go back to it. This is probably the end of the line for Sailor Moon and it will most likely not be remastered and re-released again, so why not opt for the final product? One thing that is very fulfilling about this release is that fans will get everything: all of the episodes with the previews and summaries in tact, all of the extras that we didn’t get before, the best artwork to date, the dual language satisfaction that was missing, and the best possible quality we are ever gonna see or hear. 5 sets and 3 movies, hopefully all the same way! I can’t wait, and the best part is that it all leads up to Sailor Moon Crystal‘s release!

 

Things you might not like.

  • The new English dub: Despite the best efforts made by VIZ, I cannot blame any other companies for the following points that HAVE TO be made. For starters, while I like the cast arranged, I don’t understand Luna at all. I definitely did not expect or want the voice that DiC chose, but I didn’t want a regular street woman voice either! Honestly, the voice behind Luna in the Japanese animation and live-action series has always struck me as an elderly woman’s voice. Even Luna‘s persona seems like an elderly woman (DESPITE HER HUMAN FORM LOOKING YOUNG). I don’t doubt the vocal talent on this actress, but for this role I have to say I am disappointed. Watching more and more Episodes, a lot of things are growing on me, but not this. Aside from this, the only other fact about the dub that is sad (yet DEFINITELY expected) is the name pronunciation. It could just be that some names are not deigned for us English-speakers to say, but it isn’t easy hearing ‘Ooo-Soggy’ all the time. The worst one is ‘Jade-ite’. I don’t get it? That’s all I will say because I don’t want to venture into hater territory. I just thought that maybe there would have been some degree of care put into the adaptation of the various names that will appear in the series, but when people start blundering up easy ones, then hope kinda goes out the window. This being said, perhaps these are no reasons to call the dub horrible, but it does point out there was some lack of care that went into this process. Tsk tsk tsk.
  • The video quality: EVEN THOUGH I KNEW IT, I STILL LET MYSELF SHED A TEAR. This is one of my biggest weaknesses in life, where I allow myself to get high hopes and than someone comes along to destroy them. No exception here. I don’t blame VIZ as much for this as I blame TOEI, considering the people are just working with what they were given. The bottom line we all have to remember (myself included) is that this is NOT a remaster. I feel like maybe because I just watched CardCaptor Sakura on Blu-Ray the other day, I fell under the impression that I would be amazed the same way here, but that project was definitely a remaster and this one is definitely not. What we have here is just an upscale and that’s that. I definitely feel like you can tell that in many parts VIZ attempted to do hardcore filtering, but that’s when you realize it doesn’t work out all the time. The regular scenes look a lot better than they ever have, though it seems to vary by episode as some have scenes with way too much grain and colour deficiencies. Overall, the vibrancy is great, and the bitrate during high-energy scenes is pretty damn good too. Where you’ll fall to pieces (like I did) are the parts we all like the most, like the Opening and Ending Themes, the transformation sequences, and some of the small clips here and there like the series summary that starts each episode and the eyecatch in the middle. It’s just not as perfect as I hoped for. BUT, this being said, it’s not disastrous because (like I said before), you work with what you’re given and the big picture here is that we’re getting the series on Blu-Ray 22 years later. My only wish was that VIZ did more surgery on the footage, such as cutting useless frames between scene switches and filtering through some messes. Oh well.
  • The audio quality: I don’t mean to be a nit-picky bitch here, but yeah I have to comment on the audio too… I think I had high expectations here as well given that it’s a BRAND-NEW 2014 modern-day dub. So why is the mix so muffled and hushed? I think the only good answer here, which follows in agreement with what I said above, is the age of the original track provided. Definitely the vocals were captured well, but the final mixdown is odd in that the voices are very much placed over the background music AND sound effects instead of in unison. I was about to go ham on this topic when I realized the background audio on the English track is ACTUALLY BETTER than the Japanese track, which is even more muffled. Honestly, what draws attention to this is that the Blu-Ray menus boast background music tracks from the series in FULL SURROUND, and then you play an Episode and your speakers are less enthusiastic about their job. Surely there has to be a way to upscale the sound quality, but like I said before, oh well.
  • The translations: Can I just say HOW MUCH it bothers me that during the Opening Theme (posted below), the ENGLISH subtitles say “Gomen-ne” and “Shinjiteru-no”? This is that thing of underestimating your audience and assuming that the only people that will be watching are Anime-obsessed frequenters. W-R-O-N-G. I have to say that Sailor Moon is on a different level in that it has so much global popularity and a hell of a lot of ‘American’ recognition that it doesn’t depend on JUST Anime fans for success. Since Sailor Moon Crystal came out, a lot of my friends who know NOTHING of Japanese Animation have been watching because Sailor Moon was a part of their Canadian upbringing. The moral of this story is that it’s really wrong to assume that everyone will be familiar with those words no matter how common they seem to be. Please, if you guys at VIZ can build a time machine and go back to before you started shipping these sets out, please use “I am sorry” and “I believe”, and cater to the mass audiences because I know a few rednecks that will be buying this set and texting me to ask what a ‘Gomen-ne’ is, to which I will say, “I’m sorry,” and they will respond to with, “Sorry about what?” Yeah, take that run-on sentence.

Now, all of the negatives being said, I’m in no way discouraging the sales and purchase of this series. While I like my Sailor Moon Center, I do not condone laziness and cheapness, and I think that anyone who really wants to support the series and industry will buy the sets. I just merely felt like putting some truths out there so that no one will fall into the same boat as me and get high hopes over what does not exist. I do not regret the money spent because I am a die-hard fan, and even with the flaws I mentioned, one thing is for certain: we now have the series in high definition and when all else fails, there is the original Japanese language track and subtitles to honor what Japan gave us. Although there is room for improvement, VIZ did not fail and I definitely love that I lived to see the day this series received a revival. If video and audio quality are not big factors to you, and you really couldn’t care rat’s ass about dubbing imperfections, then seize the day and get your copy now!!!

Just for clarification, VIZ Media has licensed the entire original series from beginning to end, meaning that into the next year they will be dubbing and releasing all 200 Episodes and 3 Movies along with the Specials (we hope) onto Blu-Ray/DVD. Apparently this license also covers Sailor Moon Crystal (the new series currently still being developed and streamed online) when it finishes its initial run next summer. This is MORE than a dream come true for us true Moonies out there and I cannot wait to get my hands on all of it. For your sampling pleasure, please see the Creditless OP-ED Themes and a Trailer from the set below.

Update

A little after I wrote this review, it became apparent that there is a lot of unrest within the Sailor Moon community regarding the video quality of this release. VIZ Media has since then been pressured to issue statements regarding the poor visual rendering we fans have been given. According to them, the masters provided by TOEI Animation are to be considered the highest available quality and ONLY masters available from the head animation studio. A lot of fans brought into question the R2J DVDs released by TOEI this past decade which boast SUPERIOR video quality and why those masters have not been provided to this market; according to VIZ, TOEI has stated that those masters simply do not exist anymore. It really does not make any sense given the current Italian and French DVD releases are using the R2J quality, but TOEI insists they have provided the best possible quality masters to VIZ. While this in itself is VERY infuriating (because it’s obviously a lie to withhold the better masters for Japan’s potential Blu-Ray release), VIZ has been taking a lot of heat too for their horrible quality control and video filtering. Episodes from the next Blu-Ray released have been streamed online and many users have taken screenshots of horrible artifacts left throughout. Well, it takes two to tango, right? It’s beginning to look a it sad for us North American Sailor Moon fans once again.

Watch_Dogs

I think a new post is way overdue, considering it’s July and my last post was back in April! I have a few different things planned for the next little while, but for now I want to take this opportunity to review one of the most anticipated games EVER: Watch_Dogs! I think it’s safe to say that Ubisoft has done it again; they truly understand what high-definition gaming is, and this game + PS4 = REAL NEXT GENERATION GAMING. Here are some reasons why this game deserves the money in your wallet:

The hero is talented and sexy.

One thing is for certain, Aiden Pearce (the ‘protagonist’) has the perfect voice and look, and we can thank fellow Canadian Noam Jenkins for that. (P.S. Please watch THIS!) I find in a lot of recent video games, the main character (usually male) tends to be hideous or nothing to be admired, even vocally. I’ve often wondered why, but I suppose the obvious answer is that a male player (which we all know is the usual key demographic) does not need to look at a pretty face. I think this is a bit of an undersell when the reality is that females and gay males DO play games as well and might care for the eye candy. FOR A CHANGE, you get that here. Here we have a 40 year-old that one can actually crush on, with all that bad-boy and mysterious allure. The plot centers around his life as a professional hacker, which leads to a threat made against his sister and her children. He is adamant to gain revenge and protect his family. Aw, isn’t that cute? He’s a family guy! And, he also knows how to hack, race, shoot, and kill. You have to love these talented ones. His looks is pretty cool and there are a lot of wardrobe choices in this game. Now, the man is quite troubled and can’t see to get his life together, but he still puts up a rational front that keeps the player wanting to see where his decisions will lead. He definitely is one of the better leads out there in the gaming industry.

The city is your weapon.

It’s not everyday you get to really interact with everyone and everything around you; this game is really good for that. As seen with other iconic titles from this studio, maps and expanses is something that definitely makes a game these days. The city of Chicago is brought to life in this title, and one of the impressive things to get behind here is how HUGE the map is and the fact that the player can seamlessly navigate from one end of the city to the other without any load breaks! This is quite similar to Rockstar’s Grand Theft Auto V map, but there is one vital difference: you happen to be a hacker. Hacking cellphones,ATM machines, and cars are some of the easy feats in the game, but what makes the game really shine is the player’s ability to hack street lights, sewage pipes, road blocks, city bridges, and more! A lot of these tricks are quite useful for outrunning your enemies and the authorities. I have to say, it’s a unique player experience.

You choose how business gets done.

One of the cool things about this game is that even though the story-mode runs on missions, the player has a boat-load of options. The pace you develop your skills and attributes at is, more or less, entirely up to you. The game is jam-packed with many side missions and quests to fulfill if you choose to, and these activities help build your character. Similar to what Sucker Punch did with inFAMOUS, this title also has a karma-like system where your public actions impact your reputation. This plays a part in how you get spotted and reported to the authorities. Probably the most interesting aspect of the open concept is how you approach the missions… you can enter the building how you choose to and, in some cases, be very sneaky and stealthy, or just be obnoxious and loud (we’re all different people!). Although you don’t necessarily get to choose how the events will turn out, you can most definitely try to accomplish certain goals and task and take your damn time doing so.

You’re more than just a hacker.

It’s true that probably the biggest selling point for this game was the concept of hacking and being able to control the entire environment. I think this is definitely what had me anticipating this game since last year because it’s simply different. While hacking is the biggest premise here (between hacking network towers, cameras, computers, PEOPLE, etc…), the player gets the best of a lot of different worlds. I think this game had more care chases than a racing game; no, that’s not entirely a joke. You do a lot of driving in this game and a lot of escaping! Another big aspect is combat. I was surprised at how much murder and gun play really came out in the game, but not disappointed. All of these things did not allow for a single dull moment and, literally, makes this game action-packed.

There is no holding back in this game.

If there is one thing that I know about gamer geeks and nerds, they love their ‘Rated M’ titles and want the real deal. What you see is what you get here. The violence is not exactly what I’m talking about, but there are some liberties that were taken in this story that I did not really see coming. One common theme is death, and death of CLOSE inner characters; no one character seems to be safe in this game, young or old. I feel this adds to the general realism behind the story, which focuses on cyber warfare. Another theme that I didn’t see coming? The rough sex. There is a part of the game where the player must hack through a series of cameras that move up a gangster hideout base… There are some rough BJs and doggy-style scenes going on in that building! I think this has to be a first for me. This point leads to, no surprise, some really foul language. This doesn’t really phase me to be honest, but there was really no holding back when this game was developed. The goal must have been to reflect the real harsh world out there (or that is to come) and certainly if you are the type of person that hates censorship, then this is your game.

There is probably much more to be said about this brilliant game, but I won’t take away from your playing time! The story is great, the missions are challenging, and there are loads of surprises and bonus content along the way that will keep you playing even when the story is done. I smell a big fat sequel on the way too, and quite frankly this game deserves it. Head to Ubisoft’s Purchase Page and grab your copy! Might I add, it’s really worth it if you have a next generation system, so go that route!

FF X/X-2 HD Remaster

It’s been a good couple of weeks since one of the greatest things arrived at my doorstep: my Limited Edition copy of Final Fantasy X/X-2 HD Remaster for PS3! These two titles (plus two more bonus adventures merged onto one disc) have been keeping me busy for the last little while, honoring my memories of my first RPG (Role Playing Game). I remember all the hype when the commercials would play on TV advertising FF X-2, which is what lead to me playing both games. I was apprehensive about buying this release, though, because I never finished either title when I first played along on PS2. I also wondered what the chances of me playing a game over again would be, especially lengthy games like these. HOWEVER, let me just say, I’m SO glad I went against my doubts and bought this bundle! Here are my reasons why:

A classic never fails.

As soon as I heard Tidus‘ monologue in the beginning sequence, all the memories of Spira, fiends, and FMVs (Full Motion Videos) came back to me. Final Fantasy X really pushed borders for the series being the first to receive a PlayStation 2 release; it had plenty of story and playback, many complicated battles, legendary music, and probably the best character development. All of that is still here, yet it all seems even better than before. When I first began to play around with the battle system, I immediately thought it might have been upgraded, but alas, I’m still using the old BradyGames Guidebook and everything matches up. I think I might have been too young when the game first came out to fully understand the politics of the story-line and intricacy of the relationships, but seeing it all now lends much respect to Square Enix and team for their efforts back in the day.

A true visual ‘re-masterpiece’.

The key here is that these two games have been remastered in HD, not remade. When I first took a look at the trailers, I wasn’t feeling what I saw because I had those two words confused. There is no crystal-clear perfect CGI or motion capture action going on here; the games are very much the same as they were in the early 2000s. However, even though those odd character gestures and lip syncing terrors are still present, the visual quality is simply amazing. The team behind this cleanup did a very good job of ironing out the characters’ facial expressions and cleaning the edges. Much effort also went into redrawing the background environments, which are now basically flawless. The optional subtitles is another treasure, as the older games were hard-subbed in a not-so-clear font. One of the biggest (and obvious) differences is the native resolution; any true follower of the series would know both titles had a very TERRIBLE screen size, outlined in a black box to prevent the characters from running off the screen in scenes. Now, everything has been re-rendered to fit the high definition standard and it all looks GREAT. The FMV sequences, though, definitely went through upscaling since the quality falls short of what HD video should look like in 2014. Nevertheless, just the fact that a fan can now relive everything in such beautiful quality is a blessing.

A melody to your ears.

The remastering did not end with the visuals (not at all)! One of the things that really stood out as a problem back then was the balance of music against the vocals. A lot of the time the volumes would be too harsh or not harsh enough. Say goodbye to that problem as the vocal cleanup here is basic perfection. Yuna and Tidus‘ horrific voice-acting still survives, but that isn’t something anyone can do much about at this stage, right? As if the vocals weren’t ambitious enough, this project also showcases the re-arrangement of most of the music in the two games. Die hard fans of the music of Final Fantasy, like myself, will notice this change right away (especially during battles). Most of the tracks are the same, but simply revived with lighter instrumentals or more powerful ones where needed. Opinions will vary, and I personally am a fan of the original soundtrack, but I also like the change as it keeps me wondering what each step of the game will sound like. Never fear, though, Suteki Da Ne is still in tact in its original form!

A bonus or two? Yes please.

Aside from grouping the two main game onto this disc, fans are blessed with two additional bonuses! One is the Final Fantasy X – Eternal Calm bonus sequence, acting as a brief movie that bridges the gap between the two games (story-line-wise). It was never released with the original game, but later was made available in English to exclusive PlayStation club members online. The second bonus is the Final Fantasy X-2 – Last Mission game, which is basically a short after-story adventure the girls go on. It was released as a repackaged PS2 title Final Fantasy X-2 – International Version, though an English version was never made until now. I have yet to dive into these two bonuses as I’m still in the hardcore game-play, but I am so excited because I remember being younger and jealous of not having access to these. Some other treats include a new 30-minute audio drama that plays after the credits in the second game and for fans that purchase the Limited Edition or Collector’s Edition, a printed artbook and Blu-Ray of all the remastered music is included!  If anything, this release is comprehensive to the series, which makes buying it a must!

A heartfelt story of the ages.

RPG titles have mixed reactions from gamers because while the adventure is lengthy and challenging, there is a lot of cinematic-watching and story-drama to endure too. I live for this. I remember crying when I was younger from the beauty of the characters and their lives, deaths, and romances. The story told is actually very engaging and endearing, especially since both games are long. The music in the series lends a great helping hand to gathering the emotions, but the romance between Tidus and Yuna is generally the theme of games and it is a great one. There are a wide array of characters to like, such as Lulu, Wakka, Rikku, Shuyin, Lenne, and so forth between the titles. Both games teach of many things, such as morals, friendships, politics, power, religion, and good versus evil. FF X-2, more specifically, seems to have been a move to gather more female fans since it stars a cast of three women as the main players, so the gender barrier is officially broken down for anyone to love the series.

Enough of my rambling on… both games were originally PS2 Greatest Hits, so believe me when I say that the price paid for this is nothing in comparison to all that one gets in a single package. Anyone who hasn’t landed their copy of this bundle yet is missing out, so definitely head over to Square-Enix’s Store and pick up a game that will definitely make a lasting impression for life.

Are Video Games Bad?

One of my favourite things to do in all my loser spare time is play video games. You’re looking at someone who owns every generation of PlayStation (LIE… I don’t have a PS4 yet!), a WII, an xBox 360, like three DS‘, and then all of the old relics, like SNES and Gameboy Color. All of this is to show that I AM a fobby super geek in designer clothes (I suppose it’s possible to be THAT diverse in live).

The beginning of the school year (2013-2014) was rough because Rockstar Games decided it would be a good idea to release Grand Theft Auto V at that specific time; WEIRD decision if you ask me, because all other focus in life was lost by millions all over the world. I know many will agree that this was the best video game of the year, best in the series, and probably best ever in general! That kept me entertained for a little while until Christmas came and I was gifted Ubisoft‘s Assassin’s Creed IV. The thing about this, though, is that I had never played the previous games, meaning I had much catching up to do! I already owned AC II, so I went from there and before I knew it I ordered Brotherhood, Revelations, and III off eBay for dirt cheap and finished all those titles too! [NOTE: I think this will explain to all my friends why I haven’t had liquor since the New Year began.] Anyway, I finally know why everyone loves Assassin’s Creed; it’s a damn good series! Finally, I’ve been looking through my older games and spotted one that I really would like to revisit: L.A. Noire, also by Rockstar. It’s been a good three years since that gem came out, but what an amazing game it was! This is what got me to thinking about writing this article…

The bottom line that I’ve heard all my life is that video games are bad for you. They are a pointless waste of time, teach and encourage violence, and damage one’s brain from being productive. Examples of people who commonly say this? Parents and teachers. I can see where both parties would get this impression from. Parents would much rather see their kids being physically and socially active (never mind there is the WII and xBox Live for this), and teachers will argue video games distract from homework, which is definitely true (as given from my earlier mention of GTA V and my classes clashing). There is truth in the fact that video games, especially ones like Grand Theft Auto, are violent and can teach violence, but I think one should keep in mind that the games are rated for their target and whoever underage gets their hands on them… well? To each their own. If someone decides to go shoot up bitches in the streets and blame it on that GTA lifestyle, I think that person is simply nuts, not influenced. Video games being damaging to the brain is a joke at best considering they stimulate the hell out of the brain. What kills me, though, is the thought of games being a pointless waste of time. I actually beg to differ.

The video game is a very misunderstood thing. Admittedly, thanks to the innovative tech of the Wii U, PS Move, and xBox Kinnect, many non-gaming people are seeing where games can be educational and physically exercising, as well as for making good bonding activities for families and parties. However, the conventional one-player action game that usually absorbs the big time gamer is so incredibly underplayed for what it truly is; a spectacular masterpiece.

GRAND THEFT AUTO

This game has such a bad reputation, it’s not even funny. It is well known for all of its vices, including reckless driving, gun violence, massive explosions, gross brutality, sexual obscenity, big time association with drugs, and, of course, very strong language. By that amazing sentence alone, even I have to admit this game sounds BAD. They say, however, never judge a book by its cover, and that statement holds so true here. While the earlier versions of the game were developed at a time when many concepts like cinematic sequences and in-game voice acting were not possible, GTA III and beyond definitely made good use of the changing technology. Bearing in mind the next-generation titles like GTA IV, the two DLC Episodes, and GTA V, here are some points that might surprise those who harshly judged this epic book by its brazen cover:

  • The geography of Grand Theft Auto is PERFECT! Rockstar Games especially seems to love the setting of Liberty City (aka New York in the real world), so much that the in-game map is shockingly true to real-life. I’ve driven by places in the game that I’ve driven by in real-life! Although the game uses fake monument and street names, if one learns their way around in the game, he/she could ACTUALLY relive the same footsteps in the real big apple. The developers have also mapped out Miami and California in other games too. It’s exciting to think which city will be next!
  • There is a lot of soul given to each character and a very deep story-line too. I think the biggest misconception is that the player gets in a car and start running over people and that’s the end of the game (this actually can be done, but the true game has storyboard missions to carry through). Many of these missions that end in violence and usually relate to drugs are the result of the complicated lives the protagonists have been given. They’ve all been men so far (Niko, Luis, Johnny, Michael, Franklin, Trevor, etc…), but men with families, love-lives, and a lot of messed up friends. For me, personally, I found the relationship between Luis (a straight Latino guy working as a bouncer) and Tony (his extremely gay boss) amazing in The Ballad of Gay Tony. It was an entire story arc about a straight man working for a gay man and helping him, as a friend, avoid the gangs and dealers out to get him. There is a lot of rich story behind GTA and each story teaches many lessons and morals that are completely relative to this day and age.
  • THE MUSIC! Yes, the one thing not widely advertised, but definitely extremely important to any fan of the series. There had to be a good enough reason for the player to want to jump into a car and drive from one end of the city to the next, and that reason would be the radio stations. It was a very small thing the game implemented initially, but is now a staple in the culture of the series. Each game features a collection of different radio stations that cater to different genres. In GTA IV, my personal favourites are San Juan Sounds (Spanish music), Electro-Choc (all clubbing beats), and K109 The Studio (the disco era reborn). Each station features about 15-20 different REAL SONGS that the developers fancy and play at random during different times of the day. What is very interesting is the fact that the game features some very unlikely music too, especially on the worldwide stations. Culturally, one will hear things they’ve never heard before and will love it all as well! Best example? THIS. The artists most definitely love it, as many of them now have very high-ratings on their YouTube videos which, according to the comments section, is all thanks to GTA.
  • If you break the law, they’ll come for you. 1-star, all the way to 5-stars; stars in this game don’t represent quality in this series, but how heavily wanted the player is by the authorities. Every crime committed will create a wanted warrant for the player’s arrest as police will arrive, followed by SWAT, the FBI, Interpol, and so forth. In the earlier games it was easy to lose the wanted status by simply speeding away as fast as possible from the cops, but in the newer games like GTA V, it’s tricky! I was really surprised when I found out something as simple as slapping another character could get the cops alerted and keep them alerted unless I cleverly hid  in the city. Of course, if one gets busted, the only real consequence to suffer is getting all money and guns taken away, but the point is that the game does not evade reality enough to let players think all crimes go unpunished.
  • The freedom to do what you want when you want. The words ‘open environment’ have been given a new meaning by games like this… Now, why would this be a good reason why video games aren’t bad? Well, simply because one can take the time to learn many things in the game. There are many sports and activities available in the game to sharpen real-life skills. Another thing is the feel of the cars when driving as each model is based on the real life counterpart. The most recent game, GTA V, allows players to invest their money for different outcomes in the game. as well as buy properties and assets. The con of the open environment is that, yes I can go to the bar, yes I can drive drunk, yes I can go to the strip club, and yes, I can have sex. However, there is this thing called living a little and this game definitely allows the player to do so!

ASSASSIN’S CREED

Up until the beginning of this year, I had no idea what this series was about and could have easily gone my whole life not knowing. That being said, it sure would have been regrettable if I didn’t end up finding out! The title of the series says it all; a set of stories that focus on a society of assassins. That’s pretty bad, right? Well, the real deal is why that society exists and what it stands for. Unlike GTA which always takes place in the present day and in modern Western society, the bulk of this series takes place in the past within different countries and across different historical eras. While the premise of the game is essentially murder, there are many valuable things this title brings to light:

  • Again, an astonishingly accurate geography. This is the very thing that won me over when I started playing… the sense of diversity and culture given in the environment. The second game and its spin-off counterparts took place in Italy during the 15th-16th Centuries and it is very surprising how accurate the details of Venice, Florence, and Rome are in these games. One can tell even by just knowing modern-day Italy as it has remained largely the same throughout the decades. Unlike in the GTA series where the developers used fake names and areas, Ubisoft very much stuck to what’s real by ironing out each district to be distinct to real life. The game also features places like Constantinople (now Istanbul, which this game taught me!) and England. Because of the diversity of the settings, each location features characters speaking the local languages, wearing the traditional clothes, and selling common items from the time period. One could actually impress their teachers with such geographical history.
  • Character’s, real and not real, that you’ll connect with. As with the GTA series, thus far the protagonists have been all men (DesmondAltair, Ezio, HaythamRatonhnhaké:ton, Edward, etc…), all with very intricate stories. Given that all of the games take place during past eras, it makes sense that the game would focus more on the male characters than the females, but there are all kinds of relationships within the story. I think the character everyone will always love the most is Ezio Auditore, who suffered many loses, but grew up quickly and became an icon for the creed. The developers followed his story up until his death, showcasing why and how he became an assassin, and that his ultimate realization was the importance of love in his life. Another personal favourite character for me would be Leonardo Da Vinci; yes, THE Leonardo! It might be fascinating to know that some of these characters and their stories WERE REAL! Ezio’s friendship with Leonardo, I thought, was very sweet. Even Prince Suleiman was a good entry into the story. Talk about effort.
  • A teacher’s dream: a game that takes insight into real history! Many of the events in the game are based off real wars, elections, politics, and big revolutions. What more could teachers want? The games introduced many kinds of characters that were prominent throughout the ages, such as the Courtesans in Europe and the Natives in America. I have to say, I found it interesting to see how the creators hand-crafted their own original stories about the assassins into real historical events. HOWEVER, the key is just that; not everything is real! One thing that may surprise players is that the series includes the Apple of Eden, a strange object with magical powers. There are also Gods revealed that controlled the Earth during a certain time and plenty of fantasy-like components hidden in the story-line. To me, it’s quite interesting because it’s such a collaborative mash-up of so many different themes and stories. It turns out the path of an assassin can be very educational after all.

L.A. Noire

I would have to be an ignorant asshole to forget this magnificent work of art created by Rockstar Games. L.A. Noire came right out of the blue and took the gaming world by surprise. The makers of GTA took a step in a very different direction, setting this game in 1940s Los Angeles in a film noir style, similar to a city detective movie. Because this game is the first in its series (rumors still suggest a sequel is on the way), it does not have as much hype as the previous two titles, but it did have a very profound impact on the video game world. This game also contains mature content, such as violence, nudity, and bold language, but there are so many great things about it that make me even want to go back and play it again. Here are some highlights:

  • Yet again, a very realistic map. Obviously, Rockstar cannot go wrong when it comes to their geography, but this project took a little bit more work as the map predates anyone alive on their team today! Definitely the look of L.A. will not be anything like what it is today, yet many critics have confirmed that the locations in the game are very nostalgic. It is refreshing to see the level of detail put not only into the world, but also into the objects, such as the old vintage cars made available. Even the music in the game add the perfect noir touch needed. Again, another great look at some history!
  • The realism of the characters is almost horrific. MotionScan made its wonderful debut in this game, a new technology using 32 cameras to film the actors as opposed to motion sensors commonly used for most other games. What does this mean? The main character Cole is ACTUALLY someone to develop a crush on because no one can declare the concept crazy, considering he is basically a real person! The biggest selling point of this game was the facial reactions of the characters, especially during criminal interrogations were the player would have to choose if the character was lying or telling the truth. The realism of the characters, especially throughout the many cut-scenes, definitely make for an appreciation of how much effort went into the art direction of this game.
  • Decisions, consequences, and an ultimate story. Another big seller for this game was the idea of the player having the choice to declare the outcome. Many video games are programmed with set missions and conclusions, but this one relied heavily on the player using all his/her best judgment to make the best choices in order for the story to progress. To me, it was almost stressful since screwing up could lead to the wrong person being convicted of a crime and a string of consequential murders occurring. It was very much trial and error for me. Beyond that, though, the story-line of the game was simply art. The title says all; a classic detective story unearthing many scandals and scenarios in a very entertaining way, much like a grand movie. The crimes are not censored in any way, and the player gets to live every step of the journey from the crime scene to the court room. Not to spoil anything, but the ending of this game is so tragic that it really makes the player CRAVE a sequel. In the end, L.A. Noire is so riveting that there isn’t a soul, young or old, who wouldn’t say it fails to impress.

In the grand scheme of things, I hope my points have illustrated that video games can be quite surprising to those who are not experienced with them. They can expose a lot of culture, religion, history, and morality lessons that influence the player for the better. They are most definitely not anti-social given that character and story development are so important in games, just like in shows and movies. Just like other forms of visual entertainment, the music and sound score are as equally important and can be very enriching to many. Some of these games urge players to make their own decisions that can have immense consequences or benefits, which can very much boost real-world confidence. I neglected to mention earlier that the entire tactical process of playing video games enriches the brain functions and allows for quick reflexes and processing. None of this is to say that video game are the holy pillar of society and can change the world, but they certainly cannot be as bad as people make them out to be. They certainly have great value to me, and I hope that (if anything) this article has been inspiring enough for people to go check out some of these titles. See some more below!

OTHER INSPIRING GAMES

There are many other games out there by many other developers that are so fascinating and deserve more appreciation. I couldn’t possibly write anymore on this topic, but here are a few great ones:

Uncharted Series by Naughty Dog
Mirror’s Edge by Electronic Arts
The Last of Us by Naughty Dog
inFamous Series
by Sucker Punch
Little Big Planet by Sony Entertainment
Catherine by Atlus Persona Team
Portal Series by Valve Corporation
Journey by ThatGameCompany