An Important Message from Japan #4

17 03 2008

Emergency transmission from Japan received:

Kaiji - Episode 23 - 06:09

End Transmission.





Giant Robo Review

14 03 2008

 GIANT ROBO

Genre: Sci-Fi, Robots, Retro, Show in which Paris is destroyed
Main Studio: Mu Animation Studio
Episodes: 7

Warning: I am going to spoil some of the plot of this show, so don’t complain, jerks.

The title ‘Giant Robo’ is sort of misleading. Yes, there is a Giant Robo(t) in this show named ‘Giant Robo’, but giving it that name triggers peoples ‘Meh, Giant Robots’ reaction. Giant Robots are virtually synonymous with anime, and comes with an ever so slightly negative vibe. I guess what I am trying to say here is that I think a significant percentage of people will be put off this show by it’s very name. To those of you are in this camp, fear not, this is not some Gundam Wing emo fest, in fact the titular Robo is barely even in the show.

In the very topical future, solving the world’s energy crisis, the perfect clean non-polluting power source has been invented, the Shizuma Drive. It is sufficiently scalable that it can be used to power anything from watches to cities. It’s sort of like Steorn’s Orbo and equally as fictional. Switching the world to run on a single power source turns out not to be a particuarly smart move when a giant sphere which can emit a wave that makes any Shizuma Drive in a 1000 mile radius explode all over the carpet starts wrecking everyone’s Earth.

Experts
Experts of Posing more like

Enter the Experts of Justice, a very humbly named subdivision of the International Police Organisation, who’s job it is to show up when this sort of global emergency happens. They are a crack force of weirdos who all have crazy super powers based on the Chinese fictional martial art concept of Wǔxiá. The Expert’s ace up the sleve is a Giant Robo named Giant Robot, and his handler Daisaku Kusama who was left Robo by his father who apparently had a great sense of humour.

Daisaku is the only person who can control Robo, and does so by bellowing phrases like “Go, Giant Robo!” and “Punch, Giant Robo!” at him. Daisaku tends to hang around on his shoulder like a little demon whispering destructive commands into his brain. Robo is also heavily armed with rockets, and really big rockets. He’s definitely on the ‘Super Robot’ end of robot spectrum. Of course using a Giant Robot to stop crime inevitably leads to large scale property destruction and presumably the associated law-suits. They tend to only bring Robo along to the sort of emergencies where other robots are already present. Because, the only thing that can stop a giant robot is an even equally big robot.

GO, GIANT ROBO!
“Why are you always yelling? You are practically standing in my ear…”

The Expert’s opponents are the BF Group, a group of similarly super powered evil dudes who do everything for their absentee leader Big Fire. They are a group of wonderfully evil characters most notable of which is Alberto, a man so badass that he can light a cigar with his mind. They are trying to execute a crazy plan to rule the world seemingly be destroying the majority of it. They start their destrucive crusade with levelling Paris. I am always amused when Paris is first in the queue of places to get destroyed in anything. If I ever become a super villain I must make sure to start my evil plan by destroying Paris, it just wouldn’t feel right otherwise.

This show has a very retro look, and it actually initially fooled me into thinking it was made sometime in the 80s, when in fact the 7 OAV episodes were released between 1992 and 1998. The character design looks like something Tezuka Osamu (The Astro Boy guy) would come up with, in fact I kept expect Daisaku to transform his legs into rockets and blast off into the sky. Professor Volger also looks remarkably like Astor Boynton’s father (In the year 2000 there was no Astro Boy,  there was a real boy named Astor Boyton.).

anime-gr-doctors.jpg
Professors Boyton and Volger, looking like cockrels.

For a show with such a prominent robot, there is surprisingly little hot robot on robot action. Whenever fighting needs to be done, the characters pull up their sleeves and do it their own damn selves. This isn’t to say that the Robo is absent entirely; he does show up whenever ever anything big needs to happen, but never steals the focus to any extent.  This is mostly helped by the fact that Robo doesn’t have a personality beyond obeying what commands Daisaku screams into his watch. The only thing that Robo ever says is a big “Ohhh” noise that later became the title of a show which some of the staff made.

Another interesting thing about the show is its use of classical music. This lends to it a somehow more epic and more serious feel. The overall story is quite dark, lots of characters die, as do a significant portion of the population of the planet. In fact that is one criticism I would level against the show. If the baddies got their way, then it would result in the total destruction of all life on Earth, and I’m really not sure what the motivation for that would be.

Horse Car Surfing
This has nothing to do with the text, I just couldn’t not include it.

While I’m complaining, I say that Daisaku occasionally falls victim of Shinji Ikari style emo-bouts, fortunately these are short lived and he always gets his act together and stops whining in time to save the day. I would also like to mention that the pacing of the show is initially quite slow. Once you get past the first two slower episodes though, it picks things up, and ends with an excellent conclusion. Due to it being released over period 6 years you can actually see the animation getting more sophisticated from episode to episode, which nicely matches what they are being required to animate in each episode.

Unfortunately, the show doesn’t neatly wrap up it’s plot by any means, and leaves us with lots of plots that will probably never be resolved. It was intended to be part of a greater work, with sequels and prequels and all that sort of thing, but unfortunately it never really got made. We’ll have to make do with what exists of the show

Abritrary Rating: 9 – OOOHHH!





Game Over?

13 03 2008

I just died in a JRPG…. it said “Game Over” and everything! I’d almost forgotten what this was like…

This bastard totally bloody killed me. The Cunt.

A wise man once said “I have been shot down at the first hurdle.”, these words nicely sum up the situation. Kaim the Immortal sets off on a quest to discover a thousand years past and the secret behind his immortality, but barely makes it over the first mountain range when a giant dragon named Grilgan shows up. Despite Kaim’s best efforts to exploit it’s weakness to fire attacks, Grilgan spams an attack that damages all members of Kaim’s party for over 200 HP, 3 turns in a row, and they all fall down dead. So much for being immortal…

Would you like to continue from the last Checkpoint?

Yes <-
No

Perhaps this is actually the true nature of his immortality. When I one day die, I will look out for this prompt too.

Anyhoo.

I’ve been reading a lot of opinion about Lost Odyssey recently. One thing that has repeatedly cropped up is how this game is apparently a step back for the JRPG genre. I assume that the last JRPG any of these reviewers played was Final Fantasy 12. For those of you who don’t know, FF12 dropped turn-based combat in favour of a more real time affair like an MMORPG. For some reason everyone decreed this as revolutionary (Hey guys, ever played the .Hack games? No? oh), and apparently any JRPG that dares use a traditional combat system is some sort of primitive throwback.

For some reason it didn’t occur to them that FF12’s combat system wasn’t really all that great. It didn’t give you enough direct control over your party to play effectively, so all actions had to be automated. You could program the AI of every member of your team, so they would heal if their health dropped below 50%, use antidote if poisoned, regain mana if out of mana, attack leaders target, etc. All you the player was left to do was hold down the analogue stick in the direction of the thing you wanted to die. The game bloody well played itself. Was this really better? Really? Really, really?

Thank Christ that the people at Mistwalker realise that while FF12 was neat, it was sort of a totally different genre to the first 10 Final Fantasy games, and wasn’t really going to become the norm for the genre. Did everyone stop making 2d platform games when Mario 64 came out? (Don’t answer that).

Another thing that seems to burst forth from drooling fingers of reviewers of this game is a phrase along the lines of “JRPG haters will just find more things to complain about here, but fans of the genre will love it.”. Wow man, that’s fucking deep. What awesome logic. People who hate JRPGs will hate this JRPG? Brilliant!

Are people who don’t like these games studiously buying and playing each one, declaring it to be shit, but then saying to themselves, “Maybe the next one will convince me!”. I can only assume so.

Bonus Except from Review of Gran Turismo 5 –
“Driving game haters will not like this driving game, but fans of the genre will be right at home.”





Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door Review

13 03 2008

Developer: Intelligent Systems, Nintendo
Platform: Gamecube
Genre: JRPG

Thousand Year Door Title

Warning: In this review I may use the word ‘juxtaposition’. Please treat it accordingly.

Taking an existing franchise into a different genre is always a risky proposition. Fortunately for developers Intelligent Systems, Squaresoft made this particular leap for them 8 years prior with the magnificent Super Mario RPG for the SNES. The original Paper Mario came out towards the end of the N64’s life, and no-one really played it despite it being critically acclaimed. I recently played through the version on the Wii Virual Console, and can highly recommend it to anyone who thinks they can stomach playing an N64 game in this day and age.

Paper Mario is a weird idea in itself. In these games, the characters and large portions of the scenery are apparently made of paper. The original game didn’t do much with this idea, but they’ve totally taken it to the next level here. By that I mean that Mario can turn sideways, into a tube, and occasionally he turns into a paper aeroplane or boat. Great stuff. I’m really not sure at how the ended up at the idea of having Mario made of paper, no seriously what the hell was the thought process behind that? The only thing I can possibly think was that it had something to do with developing a simple art style that the N64 could handle.

Nice art style
It’s best not to ask really. Looks nice though.

With the additional power of the Gamecube the character detail has been improved a lot, so the camera can zoom right up close without them going all pixely and crappy looking. I could hardly say that this game pushed the graphical capabilities of the Gamecube particularly hard, but it doesn’t need to. The art style works, and it’ll probably still look passable in a million years if you’ll forgive my hyperbole.

Mario RPG games always start in Mario and Luigi’s house. Yes, for some reason they share a wooden house, and sleep on bunk-beds. I guess it makes sense. Anyway, Mario gets a letter from Princess Peach inviting him to come and assist her in a far off city. Mario dutifully rushes off to the city called Rogueport which serves as the game’s main hub (it is a port with rogues in it, if the name wasn’t clear enough). Once there he discovers Princess Peach has been kidnapped. If I were Mario I’d just assume that if she left my field of view for any period of time then she’s probably already totally kidnapped. While attempting to find her, Mario ends up trying to unravel the mystery of a giant door beneath Rogueport. This adventure sends him off all over the world to find 8 brightly coloured thingymabobs that’ll will apparently open the door once collected.

Much of the charm of the game comes from the juxtaposition of having cutesy mario creatures in an actually well realised and slightly dark game world. Rather than in other mario games where a koopa’s soul job is to walk along a path, here you meet a koopa who is trying to overcome his cowardly nature, and having a hard time with his girl-friend. Rather than being stomped on by Mario and blown up as usual, you meet a bob-omb who is in mourning for his deceased wife. These oddly realistic situations are forced on cute characters to hilarious effect, and overall it’s extremely effective in making the mario universe, such as it is, a rich enough backdrop to have an RPG on.

Giant Boss battle
Some of the bosses struggle to fit onto the battle stage.

Combat in the Paper Mario games is a turn based jrpg style affair. Unusually for a jrpg though, the numbers involved are really small. An enemy will likely have less than 15 HP, and your normal attacks will do 1-8 damage or so as the game goes on. This makes a welcome change from the meaninglessly inflated values of recent Final Fantasy games, where the hardest boss has 50 million HP, rather than the mere 200 HP in this game. Most of the actions you take in combat have some sort of skill test that if you do correctly will make the attack more powerful, or an enemies attack less powerful. This usually involves hitting A at the exact moment the animation of the attack connects with the enemy. If you are feeling risky, you can defend using the B button which not only negates all the damage of an enemie’s attack, but actually does some damage back to the enemy. This is appropriately hard to pull off, but very good when you do get the timing down. Every enemy’s attack has different timing, and a lot of the attack animations are designed to confuse you as to exactly when the damage is going to occur.

A new aspect to the combat is that the combat scenes take place on a theatrical stage, in front of an audience. The stage is dressed with a rough impression of the area you were in before, but obviously done like stage backdrop. If you do impressive moves, you will win over more members of the audience, who throw crap at whichever side they don’t like, sabotage the stage dressing, and occasionally get eaten by the more ferocious enemies. This doesn’t add an awful lot to the combat as the things they throw do very little damage. It is fun to hear the roar of the crowd when you pull of an impressive move though. As you progress through the game the stage becomes more elaborate, and eventually gets wrestling-style fireworks going off at the start of each battle.

Goombella and a Koopa
This koopa may look all cutesy, but he’s probably worried about his mortgage repayments.

As you progress through the game Mario gets seven different companions who are roughly gender swapped versions of the companions from the first game. There is a Goomba, a Bob-omb, a Koopa, a Yoshi, and some other random ones. These party members participate more in the combat now, and have their own HP, which has made the combat a bit deeper. Outside of combat you can have one selected at once, and they will do all the talking for Mario who is largely mute as always. They have written unique conversations depending on which companion you have for some of the game, which is a nice touch.

There are 8 main chapters in the game, each concerned with Mario recovering one of the 8 thingumies he needs to open the door. Structurally, you usually have to go to a new town, then onto a dungeon where you will face a boss. One of the chapters mixes things up by having you have to work your way up through a fighters arena to claim the champion’s belt which has the needed thingy attached to it. This overall structure hasn’t varied massively from the first game.

Also carried over from the previous game are the intermissions between each chapter. During thse you take control of Princess Peach as she explores the weird futuristic base where she has been captured, and befriend a creepy computer who develops a crush on her after watching her take a shower. This game also adds a second sequence between each chapter where you get to play as Bowser. Bowser is annoyed that it isn’t him who has kidnapped the princess this time, and is following Mario around trying to work out what the hell is going on, which results in him constantly turning up too late to get anything done. These sequences are hilarious, and as a bonus it occasionally cuts to a Super Mario Bros. style side-scroller sequence where you control Bowser, and smash your way through World 1-1 of the original Mario.

Super Bowser Bros. World 1-1
“Have some of this!”

If I had to find criticism with the game, I would suggest that the side quests involve slightly too much tedious backtracking. These side quests come from a job board that gets a few jobs added to it each chapter, buy they invariably involve revisiting a ton of previous locations for very little reward. Another annoying aspect is that certain enemies can lock you in to a stun cycle. There are these flowers-enemies that cast ‘Sleep’ on you every turn unless you can hit a very hard defend move, and the sleep lasts for 2 turns. It doesn’t take a genius mathematician to see the problem with this. I’d also say that the mana/flower points are largely useless due to not enough ways to refill them. I’d advise anyone starting the game to only ever upgrade their Badge Points and HP when they level up.

Overall the game is probably slightly worse than the original. It copies the formula almost exactly so comes off as a sort of retread with better graphics. I’m glad they chose to mix up the formula as much as they did with Super Paper Mario, which I will presumably get around to playing now that I have finished the first two games.

Arbitrary Rating: 9 – Mario è fatto di carta





Sisters of Wellber Review

10 03 2008

Main Title 
Genre: Fantasy, Action, Stupid
Main Studio: Trans Arts Co.
Episodes: 13

Every so often I end up watching a terrible show. I’m never quite sure how it happens, but it does. It’s a fact of life really. I think at least initially it’s something to do with me imagining promise that never really comes through, and later it’s a sort of “well I’ve already watched half of it, I’ve got to finish it now otherwise I will have wasted my time” type logical fallacy. Well, I guess I should share what promise I saw in this idiotic show:

The horse does not talk.

I’m not sure why, but this image seems to imply there is a talking horse in the show. I must warn you that there is in fact no talking horse in this show. There is however a talking steam-powered tank, a talking fairy, and a shit-load of talking humans for all you human-fetishists. Regardless of that, how can anyone not be at least slightly curious as to what this show is about from this picture? Well being a kindly fellow, I’ll save you the bother…

The plot of the show involves the runaway Princess of Wellber who is accused of murdering the Prince Gernia of Sangatras… accused by Prince Gernia who is still alive for some reason. She has 14 days to be executed by her own Kingdom or there will be war with Sangatras. So Princess Rita and a friendly burglar woman named Tina who starts hanging around with her must get to another third Kingdom called Greedom in order to prevent the war somehow. There is a Mahoromatic style timer at the end of each episode which says how long she has before war is declared.

Unfortunately the show does a really bad job of explaining the plot beyond this, and the Rita and Tina just sort of bumble about until they get to Sangtaras which isn’t really where they were trying to get to, and then series ends. The timer also runs out at episode 10 without anything bad happening, which is just confusing. Unfortunately the show continues in a second season, which I will make every attempt not to watch.

So?
until…?

Probably the best thing about the show is the talking tank named Cyrano de Bergerac, who is sort of like a steampunk tachikoma with the voice of a grouchy old man. He comes equipped with an enormous cannon but he falls asleep after firing it, unless the writer forgets this, in which case he doesn’t. There is also a tiny naked flying sprite girl named Sherry, who always ends every sentence with ‘Beru’, contributes literally nothing to the plot, and whose presence remains virtually unexplained.

The most overwhelming thing about this show is that everything in it is so unbelievably dumb. The plot is dumb, the characters are dumb, the setting is dumb. Examples! In episode 3, the characters stand motionless while a baddie very slowly douses the building they are in with flammable liquid and light a match. In episode 11, two characters who love each other have a duel for no particular reason resulting in one of them dying. It’s all just so painfully stupid.

Tea!
Despite my best efforts, this picture is unable to properly show how stupid this show is.

Oh yeah, one of the other reasons I ended up watching it was because Production I.G had their name attached to it, but I don’t reckon they did much more than the odd explosion here and there. The animation and graphics are functional, occasionally looking nice. Nice, but sort of like a Playstation 2 game, watch the opening to see what I mean. This show took almost a year to get subbed, which also contributed to me not giving up on it, as I had often forgotten how bad it was by the time the next episode came out. A second season is coming out now, in which presumably they still have to get to Greedom or else a pointless counter that doesn’t mean anything might expire!

Arbitrary Rating: 3 – Do Not Watch





Tomb Raider Retrospective Part 3 – Tomb Raider III (1998)

8 03 2008

Platforms: PC, PlayStation 

Tomb Raider 3 Logo

Facts

  • Was set in India, Nevada, A South Pacific Island, London and Antarctica.
  • Lara could now crawl, sprint, and swing from monkey bars.
  • Was the one where she went to Area 51
  • Added water currents, a Kayak, and a freeze-to-death bar.
  • Biggest breasts ever.

Now here we have the game that caused me to originally give up on the series. Core’s engine programming dudes had been hard at work splitting the virtual atom into it’s component triangles. By that confusing statement I mean that their engine was now capable of rendering three-sided shapes, and did so with reckless abandon. Harnessing the power of triangles, they were capable of creating the most realistic environments yet in the series. That isn’t of course to say that they looked particularly good, or even slightly good, but the environments didn’t look just like a stack of deformed crates any more which was refreshing if nothing else.

The first level is set in an Indian jungle, and it showcases what truly amazing environments can now be made. Or rather, it looks fucking terrible. Every cheap trick to simulate vegetation is used, the most common being just a flat sprite with some leaves on. The whole effect is that pretty much everything in the first four levels looks like the stage dressing in a primary school play. The first level also introduces insta-kill quick-mud (which looks just like regular mud. Have fun with that.), irritating water currents that stop you from getting where you want to go, and has you shooting hundreds of innocent poison monkeys.

A jungle, apparently.
Tomb Raider 3 was an ugly ugly game.

This opening level really was a nightmare, and it even used my favourite trick in which you die immediately upon starting the game if you don’t jump over a pit with pinpoint accuracy. The level design was messy looking and many steps harder to work out where the hell you were supposed to go than the previous game. I had just finished Tomb Raider 2 when a demo of this level came out, and it’s fair to say it put me right off. You can’t blame me for not wanting to play an uglier, more frustrating version of an already ugly and frustrating game, surely?

The overall plot has something to do with a meteorite that split up in earth’s atmosphere a billion years ago, and Lara needs to go around the world collecting the bits of it for some reason. If you are that interested, you can watch the entire plot of the game here, but it really wasn’t the high point of the series if there was in fact a high point. A graph of the plot quality of the tomb raider series would look something like this:

presumably amusing graph

Once the opening bore-fest is out of the way, the game presents you with a list of three locations you can go to next, in a back-of-the-box feature known as non-linear levels! What this really meant was you were screwed unless you went to Nevada first, because there was a sequence in that area of the game where they robbed you of your guns and never gave them all back. So any collected in the other two areas would be lost forever. Great work guys. You eventually unlocked the last level set in the Antarctic, where they stole idea from classic movie The Thing. In fact, a lot of the game seemed to be stolen from various things, which the designers would probably write off as homages.

In Nevada, when not fending off attacking eagles, Lara’s aim was to break into Area 51 of all places. Yep, there was even a UFO there. Lots of army servicemen for her to murder as well. The only explanation I can think of for this sequence is that the X-Files was popular at the time, so they wanted to do something along those lines. Hey Assholes, it’s called “Tomb Raider”. Raiding Tombs. Tombs. Raiding. Christ.

Aldwych
A photo-realistic representation of a tube station.

Lara also went to London in a sequence ripped of from Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere. She finds a weird society of people living in the underground tunnels which apparently exist in beneath London. As a resident of London, this part is especially hilarious. I’m really not sure why they bothered trying to do real locations in their engine, because the results are just bad. Lara also ends up breaking into the National History Museum, where there are security guards for her to murder, and an entire sphinx. Now I’ve been to the National History Museum and I didn’t see no damn sphinx, which raises the question once again of why they bothered naming where she was. I think they assumed no-one would ever get past the opening level in order to verify what it said on the back of the box.

Lara murders a lot of people in this game. Well, she murdered a lot of people in the last game as well, but those people were almost certainly evil. In this one she kills US servicemen, and night security guards at a museum. Oh, and the majority of a primitive and previously undiscovered tribe living in the South Pacific. Maybe it’s just me, but I felt that making her into a cold blooded killer wasn’t the greatest move. It’s not like the game presented you with a choice about it either. It was probably a misguided attempt to make the series darker, which designers love doing. Either that, or they weren’t really thinking to hard about it due to the impossibly tight release schedule imposed on the series.

By the third entry in any series is when most series try and get back to their roots in order to recover from the misstep of the second entry. The roots of Tomb Raider are of course the raiding of tombs, and to be fair she does do that at least once in this game, though it’s really more of a temple than a tomb if you have to get all technical. In order to cement this back to the roots direction, the designers decided to stick in yet another lost valley stuffed with dinosaurs. How many of these bloody things are there anyway? It’s truly amazing that no-one who isn’t Lara Croft hasn’t discovered them considering their abundance.

The mansion in this game was expanded with a hedge maze, a 4×4 race track, an enormous fish tank, roof, and tons of other crap. It was the biggest and most secret-stuffed that the mansion ever got, and was probably the best thing about the game. It also had the farting butler that you can lock in the freezer  as well, for all you immature gits.

Next time on Tomb Raider Retrospective, Lara goes back to her roots, in another back-to-her-roots adventure!

Tomb Raider Retrospective
Introduction
Part 1 – Tomb Raider (1996)
Part 2 – Tomb Raider II (1997)
Part 3 – Tomb Raider III: Adventures of Lara Croft (1998)
Part 4 – Tomb Raider: The Last Revelation (1999) – coming soon
Part 5 – Tomb Raider Chronicles (2000) – coming soon
Part 6 – Tomb Raider: The Angel of Darkness (2003) – coming soon
Part 7 – Lara Croft Tomb Raider: Legend (2006) – coming soon
Part 8 – Lara Croft Tomb Raider: Anniversary (2007) – coming soon





An Important Message from Japan #3

8 03 2008

Further communication from Japan continues:

Kaiji - Episode 22 - 13:16

That is all.