Game Review- Magical Diary

Magical Diary-Horse Hall

http://www.hanakogames.com/magical_diary.shtml

I thought this game would be far too cutesy for my taste. I was wrong!

It cannot be underestimated how addictive this game is. I have played through it eight times already and it never gets old. Small wander this game was available on Steam not long after I bought it.

The story is simple enough. You are a freshman at the magical ‘iris academy’ school for witches and wizards. Bring forth the Harry Potter comparisons! Yes this is all well-worn territory but the game really is set in its own universe.

Your character is from the non-magical world and has much to learn when she comes to the academy. The character customisation options are fun and quirky. Want green hair and eyes that fill two thirds of the face? You can have that! There are more ‘normal’ looking options too but who wants that!

So after character creation you meet your roommates, both of which are a little on the cliché side. You have the bookworm with a bit of a sister complex and the spoilt tomboy with a massive brother complex (both hate and love.) Your roommates are nice girls, though living with them is going to be far from harmonious. You will argue and drive each other a little crazy. Be careful however, try to do the best by them or you will regret it later!

You can’t die in this game (that I know of!) but you can get expelled or lose your powers through various means. Get too many demerits and you will be kicked out of school and your memory will be wiped. Non-magic folk are not allowed to know about the magical world! (As we know people are stupid and wizards like to keep them that way.) No mention of magical wars etc unlike Harry Potter but this world is not exactly safe either. Be careful what you agree to or promise anyone, a witches’ words are binding!

Most enjoyable part of the game I found was deciding which classes to take each week. You are in control of your schedule and timetable. Choose between red, blue, green, black and white magic classes each week as well as other activities like Study (increases your smart points which increases your magical power,) and Gym (increases your strong points which increases your Hp.)

Be careful what you take, you have exams to prepare for! (Well, this is a school.) Periodically you will be tossed into the dungeon and be expected to find your way out using the skills you have learnt in class. There are multiple solutions to these dungeons and the obvious answer will get you out but there are extra merits for those who think outside their magical box.

Your school life is rich and varied, you can be a model student or you can give the teachers a rough time. You can be freshman treasurer or you can remain obscure and blend in with the rest of the school. There are many school events to participate in all related to magical holidays and these can be opportunities to find out more about your friends or uncover more of what is going on with the various mysteries you can dig up. Fancy joining a secret society anyone? How about getting accidently married?

There are romance options in this game. Not all the options are opposite gender, some are not even human! The routs are complex and have a huge impact on how you play the game. I have to say, Damien is probably my favourite but they all have their charms and involve or exclude you from school life in different ways. Remember, not everyone will be happy with your choice of romance and if you annoy your roommates too much they will abandon you when you most need them.

As I said at the beginning, this game is simple to play but with such a mind numbing choice of routes and options that have a huge impact on the end of the game it’s far from straightforward. This game has much replay value and I for one hope a sequel or expansion is made.

4.5/5

Kaichou wa Maid-sama

We all know this type of anime. Sweet and inoffensive. Well, almost.

The format is traditional. Poor girl wants to do as best she can in life and works her way up to school president. To keep her family finances from getting any worse she also has a part time job. She is a “maid” at a café. Naturally this does not marry up with her image at school and so her job is a secret. That is, until a boy from her school finds out she works there.

We all know where this is going… and yet Maid-sama turns something that should be bordering on the ecchi and makes it almost feminist. Ayuzawa, our heroine, is the opposite of a shojo heroine. She is not shy, or quiet or even nice. She hides her job because she is ashamed of it. At school she is a demon. The school has recently gone co-ed and is male dominated. To compensate for this Ayuzawa is not only driven to protect the small clan of girls at the school but intimidates anything of the opposite sex.

The series seems to enjoy putting her in clichéd situations, such as the stalker storyline and turn the tables. She does not need rescuing. She does not need a man in her life. She is happily independent. In doing this the show does become more parody than good anime but it’s still enjoyable even with the formulaic storyline.

This is not a Lovely Complex type anime. It’s not a sweet story. It has a harder edge to it than that, which as a woman in her early thirties I appreciated. There are sexual references and while no flesh is shown some of the jokes are very below the belt.

The main instigator of all this is Usui. The hot guy in school, who seems wholly uninterested in school life or any of the stream of girls that hover around him. The president treats him with the same distain she would any male and this is what makes him interested. Usui has many secrets surrounding him that the president is intrigued by but cannot bring herself to really show an interest in. She has better things to do. This all changes when Usui finds her at a café in a maid uniform.

At first he goes there to tease but his visits rapidly turn to a guilty pleasure. He even ends up working there.

There is plenty of character development. Both Ayuzawa and Usui change as they get to know each other.

Apart from that the series left me feeling vaguely disappointed. Yes it attempted to jazz up the tired formula with some fun characters and plot devices and there is plenty to get a romantics heart racing. I just can’t help feeling I’ve seen all this before and probably done better.

3/5

I think I’ll go back to something bloody next, or paranormal… I think anime romance is making me cynical.

Anime review- Lovely Complex and added ramble

So, as a detox to Guilty Crown I again went against my tastes and stepped into the strange world of pure Shoujo. Again I am not one for cute and cuddly but I was recommended this one on twitter and gave it a whirl.

Story is simple enough. Tall girl Riza has love/hate relationship with her school pal, short boy Ootani. They start out hating each other, earning instant celebrity around the school as a real life comedy double act. Finally Riza matures enough to realise… she fancies the pants off Ootani. Enter a string of comic episodes that had me laughing so much I choked.

Anime humour does not always translate well, but this I found cringe-worthy but very funny. Riza, our freakishly tall heroine is a typically dippy shoujo girl, but brash and prickly rather than cute and demure so I did not mind her dizzy character. The object of her affections also falls into the same tired role. Ootani has a temper but is nice under it all. The show livens things up by throwing the odd serious bit in and this gives a nice balance to the comedy. At times I actually said “awwww” at the screen as Riza tries to awkwardly grapple with her hormones and her wholly inappropriate crush. I also squealed like a sixteen year old over certain sweet moments. I felt absolutely no guilt for enjoying the show. It is well written and takes time to build character.

The anime does not rush the plot either and takes the time necessary to cultivate the relationship between the oddball couple and throws in plenty of obstacles. Riza and Ootani are well matched and their friends constantly push for them to get together, just like in any other high school around the world. (Seriously why do people do that? Never match make people it can all go so very wrong!)

So, a nice 24 ep light relief from the blood and guts, but it was not really anything deeper. 3/5.

The reason I unashamedly enjoyed something so far removed from my taste is because it struck a chord with me. OK, I was not a cry baby as a teen. I would not be caught dead crying at school… the rest of the story however is fairly close to my own experience.

I was Riza once and watching Lovely Complex brought it all back. So I am going to tell you a story, about me and how life can imitate anime . (Clichés are clichés for a reason.) Yes this is self-indulgent but its good practice to write about yourself instead of fictional characters all the time. I am going to use a little creative license to shorten things and avoid personal details. Apart from that the story is mostly true and the anime inspired me to write this tonight. Besides, this is my blog, if you don’t like it then click the little X and be gone.

You may know that there is a step between school and university in England and Wales (not so much in Scotland.) It’s called 6th form. Most large schools have a 6th form or separate college entirely for the A level students. These are the exams you need to get into university. It’s an intense two years of study. You have to be incredibly bright to take more than 3 subjects over the two years.

So, a large group of young adults all under pressure and yet at that age pupils are considered responsible enough to have their own common room to hang out in between classes. Some schools even give you the freedom to drop in and out of school between classes. It’s an interesting period of any teenagers life and it was no different for me.

I was a transfer student! (How cliché can we get people!) I’d already done a term in a much smaller school in the back of beyond. Suddenly I was in a much larger school and even had to change a subject which meant I had some serious catching up to do. On day one my fellow pupils introduced themselves to the strange country bumpkin that was now among them. (We are British we do that sort of thing. I met 150 people that day, some of which I never spoke to again in the two years I was there.)

I met my version of Ootani that day. He was short, no higher than my shoulder, had untidy short dark hair, dark eyes that were far too knowing and a cocky grin. I hated him on sight. I hid my dislike quite well, for me. I was not the most even tempered girl back then and I was well out of my comfort zone. Also, my fragile teenaged heart was bruised from an attachment at my old school, but that is a story for another time.

Anyway, it was a week before me and my Ootani locked horns. I was slaving over my first history essay. No word processing allowed back then people. 1500 words on Stalin’s rise to power. I had never written a history essay before and I had 4 days. I was on my third draft and lost in concentration, studiously ignoring some of my peers dancing on the tables to Itchycoo Park… (we were going through a retro phase on the CD player. It was either that or the starwars soundtrack.)

A shadow fell over my work.

“Bloody hell your handwriting is awful Welsh girl,” droned a voice in a mocking parody of my accent.

I looked up to see the cocky grin I had not liked last week. He had just made me lose my place among the purges damit!

I kicked him in the shin… hard… He yelped, clearly not expecting my reaction. We glowered at each other for a moment until I politely told him to piss off.

Things fell into a pattern after that. He would pick a fight, I would react with my legendary Celtic temper. We would practically be in each other’s faces, snarling at each other. ( Although I had to bend down a bit to achieve this.) Oh I hated him.

Yep I was far too stupid to realise I fancied the pants off him, just like Riza.

Also, just like the anime we became a source of entertainment for the whole 6th form. People would goad us into an argument and watch the sparks fly while they drank coffee and placed bets on who would win.

My new so called friends tried to shove us together, using very obvious strategies to get us to notice what was blindingly clear to them.

“Don’t you think he was sweet helping you with your history homework?”

“He only did that because I bribed him! I have to buy his coffee all week as compensation!”

“Don’t you think she has a lovely accent?”

“Her? She cackles when she laughs, sounds like an old woman.”

“I heard that you prick!”

“Yeah? I don’t care if you did!”

*Slagging match across the room …*

This went on for months and I actually looked forward to the arguments. I got a little thrill out of them that became addictive and the volatility between us increased. The big arguments also seemed to coincide to when either of us showed interest in anyone else. Little petite blonde eyes him up at a party.  He drove her home after. Monumental name calling by me on Monday. Me dancing with a lovely Irish lad on Saturday.  Monday he wiped chalk dust on my new jumper.

Of course, I was too dense to add all this up at the time, hindsight is a wonderful thing.

Two months before final exams things finally came to a head. I was wandering up the corridor to the common room and I heard my name called. Without thinking I turned. My face was slavered in wet warm cloth. I pulled it off my face and realised it was a towel. The perpetrator was running up the corridor in his gym shorts and shirt laughing like the idiot he was. I frowned; it was not much of a prank. That was when I realised that the towel was soaked in his sweat, not water… I was half disgusted half impressed he would go that far… my mascara and black lipstick were now smudged to hell and I smelt of boy. (It was the 90’s don’t judge the make-up. I went through a mild grunge phase. I recovered I’m pleased to say.)

I ran after the little bugger swearing revenge. He was on the tennis team, so he was much faster than I was but he could only go so far.  I remember people laughing as I passed them, they all knew who I was after. Tracked the swine down to an empty biology classroom. Threw the towel back at him and made all sorts of threats of bodily harm. He let me rant for a bit then finally shrugging and glared at me with those cursed molten chocolate eyes…

“Oh come on,” he said as if talking to a child. “You love me really.”

That brought me up short. I knew he was being sarcastic but it made me think… what was I covering up with all this bravado?

I got angry. This was not fair; this was not the way things were supposed to be between us. We could not hold a conversation without insults, but I went out and got him cold meds so he could take his maths test last month without fainting of a fever. He was the one who stayed with me and talked me down when I had an asthma attack last year, but he told me on a daily basis that I was an idiot. I was comfortable with that. We could be nice, but preferred to be nasty. He was not allowed to see through the act. He was not allowed to change the rules! They had served us well for nearly two years why change now?

I decided to be cruel. In my revenge I went for total humiliation. Next time he picked on me in the common room and got in my face I did not just shove him away, my normal response… I used the skills only a welsh farm girl picks up. I got the little swine in a head lock as if I was about to shear the fleece off him and watched him struggle. He gave up fighting me quickly and retaliated by saying he did not fight girls and I was too freakishly tall to argue with anyway. I remember the smug grin that crossed my face.

I kissed him… right there in full view of the entire sixth form.

*shudder*

You’ve never seen a boy more shocked in all your life. I seriously thought he was going to cry! This was not right! He was supposed to be angry not look as if I’d ripped his heart out and stomped on it! With reflection I suppose I knew then that I had over stepped the mark, I flounced away apparently proud of myself. The guilt hit me about five minutes later. I knew I should apologise… I had embarrassed him… but I couldn’t. Pride would not let me. I wanted to humiliate him and I had. One sloppy kiss and a headlock equated to a sweaty towel in the face and smudged make-up right? Somehow I think perhaps it didn’t.

A month later we could laugh about it, but relations were strained. We did not even argue anymore. He wrote in my leaving book that it was two years he would never forget and a kiss he would never forget… right next to a picture of a sheep.

That was it. He went off to some English uni I can’t recall the name of and I went north 600 miles to bonny Scotland and have never left.

So, sad pathetic story. Well I actually don’t see it that way. I learnt a lot about myself from my relationship with my own Ootani. I realised I was not a nice person. I covered up my insecurities with anger and bluster. I also realised I did not like myself very much at that point in my life and that was something I needed to change. So I did just that.

I should thank my 6th form nemesis if I ever see him again. He made me take a good look at who I was and made me decide who I wanted to be. I would probably stamp on his toes too, just for old times’ sake. XD.

So off I went to university to start a new chapter of my life with a new found perspective.

In my first year I met a really freakishly tall Scottish lad with a pretty face and copper hair… the rest, as they say, is history 😉

Anime Review- Guilty Crown

I started watching this after seeing one of those “top ten” fan made things on youtube. This was in the best music/opening category.

After watching the above in HD and being dazzled by the shiny animation I put aside my prejudices against the show and indulged. I usually avoid high school based things these days (too close to my actual job.) I also tend to avoid mecha type anime. (Those things would be so astronomically expensive to build, run and maintain no one would use them to blow stuff up. You would need a mechanic on hand at all times as they would constantly break down with hard use and all those moving parts…. remote fired missiles would be more effective. Yes I know this is science fiction but the whole concept of mecha annoys me.)

Anyway I immediately liked the shy and retiring boy that was the main character, Shu. He finds the lead singer of a famous internet band Egoist, in an abandoned building and she is injured. His life pretty much falls apart at that point. The viewer slowly learns that Japan is going through a period of recovery after a pandemic. This apocalypse virus causes tissues to stiffen and crystallise until the entire body is taken over and falls apart. It’s agonising and either happens very quickly or slowly, drawing out the pain and leaving people prisoners in their own bodies.

Because of this, Japan now has a totalitarian government and has pretty bad relations with the rest of the world; which are terrified of the infection spreading. So far so good, I thought and settled down prepared to be a bit bored. Oh how wrong I was.

The first episode opened with explosions and a lot of running away. I lapped it up and grabbed the popcorn. This was great! I devoured episode after episode with relish and the series kept surprising me.

“There is a resistance, duh he is going to join… wait… he went back to school? What the hell? Is he nuts?” Etc.

OK mild spoilers abound from this point so be warned! (Highlight to view, skip to the end for summary.) 

Shu accidently ends up with a genetic weapon. He can resonate with the virus cells in others, (which everyone carries but not all end up with symptoms) and he can basically withdraw pieces of their heart/soul and use them as weapons, called Voids. This was a gift for the fanservice. Shu had to plunge his hand into many a female chest and this led to many an embarrassing situation for him. I did not mind the comic episodes but felt they were a little misplaced against other eps that dealt with sexual exploitation, violence, discrimination and drug abuse.

Through his power Shu really finds out who his friends are and I particularly liked the relationship between Shu and Yahiro. Yahiro is apparently the golden boy. Friendly, kind, confident and seems to shield Shu from the other students. He turns out to be dealing drugs to make money for his brother’s hospital bills, while sampling his wares. He is very bitter and resentful under his image and when it all comes crashing down for him he turns really nasty. This gritty and tragic subplot was excellent and it was not the only side story I felt added to the anime.

Aside from the mecha and genome stuff I like the tech in this series. This is set only a generation in the future and the TV and phones look actually believable. The mobile phone is combined with a holographic ipad like device and looking at my own new smart phone I can see things easily going in that direction. It shows a lot of thought has gone into the background details and I appreciated this.

Shu does eventually end up fighting against the government to get at all the secrets they hide on the virus and thus he joins a wider, more varied cast than just his school friends. I thoroughly enjoyed this part of the anime and even the fan service did not spoil it for me (which can be a bit over the top at times. This woman is half dead but look! Her boobs are wobbling! Oh please that is really what I want to see right now, extreme boob close up goes so well with the blood.) Also this is when one of my favourite characters really shone.

Gai.

The man is BAD ASS! Shu and Gai have a very rocky relationship to start with, but eventually come to an understanding… until Shu starts to suffer from a form of post-traumatic stress and can’t seem to fight anymore. Sympathy from his fellow fighters? Oh no, get on with it Shu and kill more people for us! When he refuses he effectively gets cut off, even his beloved Inori leaves him to go back to his mediocre life. At this point I sensed a wrapping up of a story arc coming.

“Please!” I implored hugging my popcorn. “I am enjoying this, don’t get weird!”

It got weird. Very weird.

The whole ending of this arc made me scowl at the screen and left me vaguely disgusted. Were the story writers bored and feel they had to shock their audience? It was a total flight of fantasy at this point and it lost me. I dropped the series for a few days.

What saved it for me was the soundtrack. I love it. The anime has fantastic music that not only enhances the story, it defines the whole anime. Missing the soundtrack I gave the anime another chance.

The story moved on into what I called the “lord of the flies” story arc. The heart of Tokyo is cut off from the rest of the country as it is declared an infection zone. The government are slowly implementing a scorched earth policy and the walls are literally closing in on Shu’s school and everyone else in the infection zone. The school is in chaos. The poor school president is trying to run things and failing. (No mention of where the teachers are btw! Oversight clearly.)

Shu winds up in charge (thanks to Yahiro, gotta love the opportunistic git) and Shu learns what it is to really be in charge and how Gai must have felt when he was running the undertakers. He tries to be a nice guy and treat everyone fairly… Yahiro keeps telling him that there is not enough vaccine to go around and they can’t save everyone. He comes up with a plan. Categorise everyone by their voids. They need voids to escape and they need Shu. The pupils with useless voids will be no help for the escape and the pupils that are infected are also nearly useless. These people could be eliminated by benign neglect and the useful pupils should have the priority for resources. Shu is rightly horrified. That is, until a close friend dies saving his life. He snaps and becomes a total tyrant. Inori stays with him even though she knows he is doing wrong and the school is ruled with an iron fist. It’s a nice parallel to the Japanese government and dissent does not take long to appear.

I won’t go into the ending, but let’s say Shu has an epiphany and ends up having to fight his sister and Gai again.

So, to sum up…

While I abandoned my popcorn after the first arc I did like the series over all. There were many interesting sub plots and the main story was quite engaging. The fanservice was in bad taste at times and some of the twists were unbelievable and designed to disturb for the sake of being disturbing rather than adding to the plot. I felt the anime was trying too hard to be edgy and unique. The story would have done this for it if it had been told properly.

On the plus side the animation is gorgeous and the characters for the most part are likable and easy to identify with. Inori is beautiful and while she can seem flat and emotionless at first there is a good reason for this and she really changes towards the end. Shu is a fantastic character and the trials he goes through really fit his personality changes. Gai is all kinds of epic but I really feel he should have stayed in the first arc and not been brought into the second. There are some touching moments that really got to me, this is an anime that knows how to use angst and dialogue to its advantage. The music is incredible and I have bought the soundtrack.

There is a possibility of a second season, or rather the writers were working on the basis of two seasons. There is no guarantee however that there will be a season two from what I have read.

Recommended, but has flaws. A story this complex needs more time to be told and the writers were clearly rushed in the second story arc.

4/5

PC Game Review- Loren Amazon Princess

My indi game addiction continues, this one is from WinterWolves http://www.winterwolves.com/

Well to kick off this review I have to say this is a game I have played many times. There are hours of replay value in it.

Loren at first glance appears to be one massive cliché. Busty Amazon Princess saves her world and in the process makes it a better place. Indeed I nearly dismissed the game as such myself, opting to buy another Winter Wolves title instead of Loren when I first hit the website. I can only say this was temporary insanity on my part as Loren is one of the most engaging and unique RPG experiences I have ever had the pleasure of playing.

Firstly, you do not get to play as the great Princess herself. You are her sidekick or right hand man/woman. You start out as slave and slowly grow to be trusted friend and advisor. Our poor Princess is not a woman of the world and rather a handful for your character until she wises up a bit. You can choose between being an elven woman or human man. One of the criticisms of this game has been that your character is not customizable. True, you don’t get to make their chainmail purple with pink dots, but you do get to customize their behaviour. The character set up is straight forward and the game even gives you the opportunity to restart the character building storyline if you are unhappy. There are three main personality types. You can be the friendly and sympathetic type, the sarcastic joker or the no nonsense stab-first-ask-questions-later type. All have a large impact on how your character views the world and interacts with your fellow adventurers.

After character development you and your princess are let loose on the world and your first quest is to find Loren’s missing mother, Queen of the Amazons. Naturally this is not something that goes smoothly for the gruesome twosome and they pick up a supporting cast of followers quickly. Some of these became very dear to me, namely Draco, Karen and Rei. As your character develops and changes through the game so do your followers who all have a background and their own reasons for joining the group as well as their unique skills. You can “camp” during your adventures and chatter to your group at the same time as recharging your HP. This is not simply a quirky feature, major plot events occur in the camp and this sets the game apart from other titles that use this system.

The plot is nothing if not convoluted and the political tensions in the world and individual pressures within the group quickly suck the player in. I rapidly forgot I was playing something akin to a visual novel and the characters took on a life of their own. There was more than one moment that I left the game running while I went to make myself a cup of tea so I could ponder over a dialogue choice that was morally ambiguous enough to truly challenge not only my character but my own personal beliefs and prejudices. Some choices were genuinely heart wrenching. This is not a game where everyone will get a happy resolution and I liked the game for treating me as an adult and not attempting to placate me. It tugged on my emotions ruthlessly and made no apologies.

Another criticism of the game has been the fanservice. Yes the women are scantily clad and yes those skirts would never deflect a blade. This is a fantasy game and people are shooting fire at each other so I forgave the nakedness, why? It’s not gender bias. There are just as many scantily clad men as women. Yes, yes objectification blah blah blah… that argument holds no water for a woman who has seen Rei’s assets (namely the most perfect rear in RPG history.) The art itself is beautiful and much thought and detail has gone into not only the characters but the backgrounds. There is a “cover” option so you see less flesh and you can opt out of the more steamy scenes if you wish.

Romance is one of the lynchpins of this game. It’s not an add-on that hangs around the fringes like in other RPG’s such as Skyrim. Your romantic choices not only impact the game but they impact the development of your character. The game is also very fair in its options. Not everyone is romancable by the player and some characters are bisexual while others are strictly homosexual or heterosexual. You can finish the game with no romance but as far as I am concerned it’s an integral part of the plot and you become less involved in the storyline without it.

This is a real RPG and it has a battle system. Any RPG fan should quickly grasp the skill tree, point allocation and how buffs and debuffs work in battle. There is an easy mode which practically removes all challenge for those just wanting to rip through the story and I used this myself on my first play through… yes I was that impatient to know what happened. The battle system is simple, you click on a portrait and carry out an action. There are no real battle graphics etc just small animations to represent the move you made. I found that I really did not care about this. Who needs fancy graphics when there is real and challenging gameplay? Get your strategy wrong going into battle and you could lose in the first two rounds. It’s like a violent version of chess, with added fireballs. The battles are voiced and this is a nice touch. I have been known to threaten to throw my laptop across the room over some of the boss battles, even on normal difficulty. Level up your healing skills and get the best equipment or you WILL suffer for it.

The music is suitable for the game but never over intrusive. There is also a cheesy jpopish theme song. This divided the gamers as some hated it and it was removed from the opening of the game after player feedback. Having similar sounding things on my playlists I quite liked it but could understand the objections of players who were not fans of the genre. That is one of the strengths of WinterWolves as a company. They genuinely care about their players and if there is an issue things are changed. The AAA developers could learn a thing or two about customer care from them.

So to sum up Loren is a cliché storyline in some respects and a tad obvious in places, but the depth and detail is staggering. I have never played anything quite like it and have spent many hours replaying to get all the endings and complete all the romances. I highly recommend it even with the half nude character design (and in some cases BECAUSE of the half nude character design.) It’s nice to see a game that does not attempt to please everyone and stay true to its genre and demographic as well as not preach to you about being good or evil. In fact one of the core plot themes is perceptions of good and evil and the grey areas which most people exist in. I have loved playing it and can’t wait for the expansion which will add extra quests and characters.

One final note. Rei is mine, you can’t have him and I will shove a hawk blade where it hurts if you disagree. Though I may trade you for Mesphit in the expansion 😉

4.5/5

Review- Anime- Jormungand

As I approached the end of term my life became quite hectic. I had not watched anime for months, so decided that the best way to prepare for the summer holidays was to get back into doing the things I enjoyed before work took over my life. After a bit of surfing about I came across a 12 ep mini anime that grabbed my attention. I admit, I am shallow enough to judge it by its opening on YouTube.

OOOOO! I thought and dug a bit deeper. Turns out this series is about an arms dealer and a child soldier. Interest grabbed I watched it.

First point, this is not an anime for fluff bunnies. The violence is ever present but it is not overly graphic either. Jonha’s story of how he becomes a child soldier and later enters into the service of an arms dealer, (Koko) is an interesting one. Jonha is not the main focus of the story. Jormungand is one of those anime that seems to lack an overall plot and is instead a collection of short stories about certain characters of the group. This can work well, but with a large cast I found myself getting irritated when the story moved away from my favourite characters.

I am clearly not the target audience for this anime either. There are a number of “teenaged male” draws here. A lot of the girls are very well endowed and the two main women are gay and it is implied in a relationship with each other. There is a liberal dusting of fan-service but not enough to make me sneer at it. There are many cheeky jokes, as you would expect but it’s nicely played against the fact the Jonha is oblivious to half of them and for what he does understand he does not really care or react.

Jonah himself appears cold and emotionless at first. His fierce loyalty to his employer seems baseless. As the series progresses and his story unfolds he starts to show signs that he is actually a child and Koko’s determination to “melt his icy heart” is actually working. Jonha also has something he desperately needs to do so being part of Koko’s team suits his purposes.

Koko is not your average heroine. She is a master manipulator, frighteningly clever and has absolutely no fear of her own death. Again it is intimated that she has some sort of purpose that drives her to excel in her business even though she is aware it will claim her life one day. She is not classically beautiful or even particularly pretty to my mind and her being so young is explained as her father and brother are both in the arms trade. Her brother (Casper) explains the situation well. They were both born on a container ship. They have no loyalty to any country and all they have ever known is the family business. Koko is utterly insane but knows her business and is ferociously competitive.

The other men in Koko’s group get less screen time and this was why I was left with the impression that the series was trying to cover them all but did not quite have enough time to establish their characters.

The fight scenes themselves are well choreographed and never seem to fall into the “bleach” mode. (I.e. the characters shout at each other for a while then fight a bit, then go back to a nice wee chat, then fight a bit more with the next superpower up the food chain.) The weapons are real and the fights, while typically anime (everyone having such high blood pressure that it fountains everywhere when spilt and there are 20 pints of blood in a person,) show that the capability and limitations of each weapon have been taken into account. Strategy gets Koko and her team out of many a tight spot rather than brute force.

This attention to detail also filters into Koko’s business deals. I actually found this side of the story to be more interesting than the blood and gore. Koko also has competition, there are others, including her own brother who want to make a profit too. Also the CIA are stalking around the background trying to extort money from Koko by trying to catch her breaking international regulations. While I am sure this is not official CIA policy I can well believe secret agencies need “alternate” funding from time to time.

So over all this was enjoyable but to be good needed more time. As it stands it is a clever little oddity but not much more.

3/5.

Review – PC Game – Cinders

OK, first review on my new/resurrected blog and it’s a great one to start with.

As always I remind you this is my personal opinion only.

Cinders

I’ve recently plunged into the world of indi games and quite liked what I have found. While I wait impatiently for the expansion of one of my favourites (Loren Amazon Princess- which I will talk about in another post…) I have been looking for quality alternatives.

Cinders immediately got my attention for its artwork. I saw the advertisement pop up in my inbox and knew I had to give it a try. So I played the demo and decided to get the full game within five minutes.

Cinders is a retelling of the famous fairy tale Cinderella. You remember that one? Girl with ugly sisters and harsh life (for no apparent reason) catches royal Hubbie and lives happily ever after.

Cinders is not like that…

This is more a visual novel than a game. The artwork throughout is stunning and reminds me strongly of baroque oil paintings. It seems to be set around the same regency type time period too. The images are not static however; there are subtle touches of animation in the background. Doors and windows swing open, candles flicker, water sparkles and birds fly. The characters themselves display varied facial expressions that suit the dialogue. I must admit the moving eyes creeped me out a little at the beginning… it was like the eyes in a painting following you. Gave me flash backs to many a bad horror film… So apart from bringing out a little of my paranoia the art is one of the strongest features of the game.

Cinders attempts to get to the people behind the fairy tale. Why was Cinders treated so harshly by her family? Why were her family so desperate to catch themselves a Prince? Why the hell was a ball held in the first place? Royalty should not need to go fishing to catch a wife, right? The game addresses all of this and much more. At the heart of the game is the story of a family in crisis. The player is presented with a mind boggling variety of choices that not only decides the fate of the family but forms the overall character of Cinders herself.

You can make cinders a dreamy idealist who simply wants to skip through fields of sunflowers hand in hand with her one true love… or she can be cunning and more manipulative than her scheming stepmother… or she can be a lazy whiney girl who blames her woes on everyone but herself…She can be angel or demon depending on player choice or any of the shades of grey in-between.

The plot line and dialogue flow nicely and there are quite a few twists and turns in the storyline. There are four main endings you can work towards, but many variations of each. Also with each ending unlocked a trophy image is added to the main menu meaning that to see the main menu image properly you have to complete all the endings. It’s a clever little idea that certainly had me furiously trying to figure out how to get a certain ending just so I could add a glass slipper or candle to the menu.

That leads me to the one frustration I have. The lack of save slots. Perhaps I am being dense and there is a way to increase them but I have not figured it out. 8 save slots is simply not enough for a game this complex. I found myself restarting more than once as I realised I had made a wrong choice some time ago and had already saved over that part of the game. This is a minor niggle but one I feel needs addressing.

I normally play games like this with a bit of cynicism. They are usually geared to whichever romance option you choose. Again Cinders surprised me. The story is the main focus for this game and on my first two play throughs I felt no compulsion whatsoever to settle on any of the available men. Again this deviates from the fairy-tale, Cinders can end up alone or with someone other than the Prince. I liked this feature and enjoyed exploring the other possible routes. I must admit the banter between Cinders and her childhood friend Tobias had me giggling at the computer. I felt a bit sorry for the poor Prince. He misses out on the same amount of screen time as the others, but perhaps that is the point. He is the traditional choice that we all know from the story so the other options would have been at a disadvantage if they were not well developed as characters.

I found myself truly pitying my “ugly” sisters even though they were vile to me/cinders. The game slowly peels away the layers and shows you why the other women in Cinders life are so hostile. You can choose to mend relations or choose to get revenge. In all honesty I could relate so strongly to the sisters I always found myself trying to do right by them. The Stepmother was another matter. I could sympathise with her, but I resented her for constantly chipping away at her daughter’s self-confidence. The fact I became so protective over “the girls” shows just how far this game pulled me in.

Next, the music. It fits the game beautifully but never was so intrusive that it would pull me from my reading. A little haunting oboe here, saxophone there but never once did it clash with the game events. The ticking sound that indicates dialogue speed can be annoying but it is easily turned off. I found myself turning it back on because I eventually decided it added to the game. It’s hard to convey tone in a game that has no voiced dialogue. The dialogue sound gives an indication if someone is speaking quickly, drawing out a sentence or even at times I found myself thinking a character was whispering or shouting and it was all down to a little ticking noise that can be heard as the dialogue is displayed. This is another subtle feature that shows how much thought has gone into this game.

Finally the price. I have heard whinges that the game is too expensive for an indi game. To those people I say you clearly have no idea how much work goes into a project like this. A game such as Cinders requires a mind boggling amount of time to put together. Artists, writers, composers and coders etc need to eat and deserve to be paid properly. A complex game with so much replay value deserves to ask for a fair price to cover the expenses. Also the developers need to stay in business so they can make other intelligent games that shine amongst most of the dross out there.

If we have to boil this down to something quantifiable I would give it 4.5/5. Not quite full marks because of the save niggle but otherwise this is a beautifully crafted game that has consumed my PC time over the last week and a half. I even took my lap top to work so I could play it at lunch! (Of course I did not play it when I was meant to be working! What are you implying?)

If you wish to buy the game then it is available at

http://moacube.com/games/