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Sunday, August 30, 2015

Danganronpa (Guest Article)

Editors note: This week it going to be slightly different from normal. I haven't finished Brandish: The Dark Revenant yet, and I haven't got anything else lined up for this week, so I'm introducing a guest author. Say hello to my good friend and colleague from New Zealand, Nathan Green! He'll be writing this weeks article, and I'll be attempting to set him up as a regular poster on the site soon!
Don't worry, he's not taking my place on Sundays, this is just temporary. We'll be figuring out when Nathan's articles get published in the future.
-Alex Shannon


We westerners really do end up missing out on a lot of cool stuff when it comes to video games. Granted a handful of games can sometimes cross the regional gap and escape Japan, but with most games we can be left out in the dark. However, the specific game I'm going to be talking about today did make its way over to the west on the PS Vita. However since I don’t actually own a PS Vita I instead decided to play the PSP version, which has been fully translated by Project Zetsubou. Thank goodness for fan translations.


I stumbled across Danganronpa after finishing the exceptional RPG persona 3 portable. I had recently picked up a PSP and was looking for a new game to play to fill that void you get after finishing a game (you probably know what I’m talking about). Out of pure curiosity, I downloaded and applied the patch… and was pulled into a game that I couldn’t put down until the end.


Danganronpa was released originally in 2011 by Spike (now known as Spike Chunsoft) on the PSP. It was a Japanese exclusive game. but received high enough praise for a sequel to be made and for both the first and second games to receive official western releases on the PS Vita in updated form. For this review I will be looking at the original PSP version with the fan patch applied, as I don’t own a Vita at the time of writing (although I will revisit this game when I get my hands on a Vita, and can comment on the remake). Please bear in mind that there may be translation differences between the fan patched version and the official version. Just throwing that out there. Anyways, I’d say it is about time to take a trip to despair academy. Let’s begin


Story:
Now I will try to keep this section as spoiler free as possible, since Danganronpa is a heavily story driven game. So to avoid spoilers I’ll only talk about the starting plot and setup.
You play as Makoto Naegi, an ordinary student who has been selected out of a ballot to attend Hope High School, a school which takes on the extremely talented and hopeful and has been said to give students a hopeful future when they graduate.
However, upon taking your first step through the gate you fall unconscious, and find yourself trapped inside Hope High with fourteen other students and no way out. Well, ok there is a way out… Meet Monokuma, the big bad of the game. Monokuma says that the only way to get out of this school is to successfully murder someone and get away with the murder. If the rest of the students correctly identify the murderer then they get punished, otherwise the murderer will “graduate” and be allowed to leave the school and everyone else will be punished. And by punished I mean executed.


The story doesn’t screw around. It throws you right into the heat of it pretty quickly and is paced brilliantly. The writing for each of the characters is also excellent, and you get quite close to them, even the ones that get offed quite quickly.
The tail end of the game is where the story really starts spiraling and is by far the most entertaining part of the game storywise. Overall, it's a very nicely done plot that is both interesting and well-paced.
10/10


Gameplay:
Now, the gameplay by far is the most interesting part of the game. Danganronpa is one of those games which seems to take bits and pieces from other games, and throws them into a blender to make one extremely fun game. You’ve got the evidence gathering and trials from Ace Attorney, a social link system similar to Persona 3 and 4, plus first person exploration and some mini games thrown in for good measure. Because of all of that stuff this section is going to be quite long, but I am going to split it up into 2 sections. Class Trial gameplay and Exploration/Clue Finding gameplay.
So, let’s start with the exploration gameplay.
You explore the academy from a first person perspective, moving and turning on the spot with the circle pad, running with the circle button, strafing with L and R, moving the camera with the D-pad and interacting with things with the Cross button (Editors note, that's the X button). Objects you can interact with (usually doors) will be highlighted when you move in front of them. It’s standard stuff. When you enter rooms, however things take a more Ace Attorney approach.
Inside rooms, you're fixed on the spot and can move your crosshair with the circle pad (Editors note, that's the joystick on the PSP). Again, objects you can interact with will be highlighted, and have a sound cue when you hover over them. The D-pad still moves the camera, except the camera can only pan to the left or right a specific amount due to the lack of free movement. Probably the most useful feature in this game that I wish was in Ace aAttorney is when you hit the Triangle button the game will highlight all the objects you can interact with in the room with a blue circle. This doesn’t give you any form of penalty, and is extremely useful when you are trying to find that last item to examine.
Now, before you actually go around looking for evidence, you're in a segment called Everyday Life. There is one of these sections each chapter, and you can use them to interact with your peers who have been locked up with you, and earn skill points and skills that can be used in the trials. (I’ll touch more on this later)
Everyday Life usually goes on for a few days. Once a murder happens and the body is discovered, then the game shifts into Neveryday life. This is the part of the game where you do the detective work. Every time you find a new piece of info you get “New Ammo”. Yes, evidence is called ammo in Danganronpa (you’ll see why later). You can check your ammo from the Ammunition Menu on your electroiD. “ElectroiD? What’s that?” I hear you ask. Well, basically it's a really fancy pantsy student ID, where you can view a map and teleport around the school floors at will, (useful for navigating around the rather large school) view your ammunition as mentioned before, view student profiles, view school rules, and save your game. You can open your electroiD almost everywhere by hitting the square button.
Anyways, your goal in Neveryday Life is to find all the evidence you need for the school trial. Once you have found everything, the game will automatically advance to the Class Trial, the other part of the game.


Bout time we cover the class trials then!


Class trials are the part of the game where you need to find out who is the murderer. This is done by playing a selection of minigames, yes minigames. Don’t flip out though, as these are pretty fun. I’ll cover these one by one in order of how often they appear.


Nonstop debate
This one pops up the most by far. You are thrown into a sort of testimony debate between the surviving members and you, quite literally have to shoot down weak points you see in their debate with your ammunition aka evidence (hence why it is called ammunition). You move your crosshair with the circle pad, fire with the triangle button, fast forward with the circle button and switch ammunition with the L button.
On higher difficulties, more ammunition is loaded into the chamber, meaning you have to figure out the correct piece of ammunition to fire at a weak point. Weak points are pieces of yellow text that you can see throughout statements. The higher you set the difficulty, the more weak points are present. But only one is the correct weak point. Once you find the correct ammo to fire at the correct weak point you just point and shoot. Easy right? WRONG. The game throws a bit of a monkey wrench in if you set the difficulty for the action sequences at normal or malicious. Firstly you have random chit chat that invades the debate. This is purple text that usually flies right in the bloody way of weak points. To clear this text you need to aim your crosshair at the purple text and hit the cross button. You receive a time bonus for each piece of chit chat you knock away, but if you hit a statement that is part of the debate you’ll receive a time penalty (usually around 20 odd seconds).
Secondly, sometimes the ammunition you have collected actually won't work against any of the present weak points. So what do you do there? Well if you hold down the triangle button while your crosshair is above a weak point you can actually load that weak point as AMMO and fire that at another weak point to break it. It’s a clever system and really increases the number of possible answers especially if you are playing on malicious. Only slight annoyance about this is that if you happen to miss the weak point you had to load, or you end up missing, then you have to fast forward through the rest of the debate, wasting time just to load the weak point in again. However, in my entire playthrough I never actually ran out of time.
To combat all of this crazy crap the game throws at you the game is kind enough to give you the ability to concentrate. Concentrating is done by holding the R button and it slows down the flow of time as well as stopping your crosshair from drifting around like it’s tripping on something. However, using concentration drains a gauge at the top right of the screen below your health (which I’ll get to later). If this gauge runs out then concentration stops, so you gotta be quick.
So that pretty much covers nonstop debate, so it's time to move on to…


Epiphany Anagram
This is probably the least interesting of the mini games, to be honest. It's basically hangman. Shoot the letters flying towards you by aiming and hitting triangle. Concentrate to slow down time with R, and that's about it. Moving on




Machine Gun Talk Battle
This one is quite interesting. Machine gun talk battles are basically a sort of rhythm game. Yes, a rhythm game. Hit the cross button in time with the beat markers scrolling along the bottom of the screen to lock onto verbal insults thrown at you by your opponent, before hitting the triangle button to fire and destroy them. Deplete their life gauge, and then fire the killshot at their statement to destroy it and prove them wrong. Easy right? WRONG AGAIN. If you're playing on normal or higher then at one point in the game you will be introduced to the fact that you have to reload. This is done by hitting the square button in time with the beat. If you run out of bullets, then you can’t lock onto anything. On top of that, you now have more than one killshot loaded into your barrel, meaning you have to cycle through to find the right one to shoot at your opponent’s statement. Finally, a new concentration power is introduced, but this time your opponent has one as well. Your opponent can, at any time hide the beat line that scrolls at the bottom of the screen meaning you have to go by ear. However, to even the playing field you can hit the R button to immediately bump up the tempo and give yourself unlimited ammo for a limited period. However, if you're like me then you will rarely have to use it, as I have a good ear for detecting beats in music. If you're able to detect timing in music ,then you will have no problems here.
Finally it is time to move onto the final mini game;


Climax Logic


This one is the most interesting I think. You have to reconstruct the entire murder case from start to finish in manga format (Editors note; from right to left, like in Japanese comics). The bottom of the screen has a bunch of circles which correspond to panels. The Circle Pad moves your crosshair, and you hold Cross to pick up and drop panels. By hitting cross over a question mark you can get a hint about what panel goes there. Simple but fun.


Now, I think it's about time I cover the health bar. You start with a total of 7 hearts, which drain if you mess up somewhere. Such as firing the wrong ammo at a weak point/firing at the wrong weak point, picking the wrong letter to fill in the word in the hangman game, letting the verbal insults get too close so they explode in machine gun talk battle, or misplacing a panel in Climax logic. Health is also depleted if you end up presenting the wrong ammo or pick the wrong option when asked a question during the class trial. If the health bar drops fully you fail.
BUT. But but but but BUUUUUTTTT. You are allowed to try again from the exact mini game or question you failed at with a full life bar with NO penalty whatsoever except for a small point drop, no matter what the difficulty. The game is EXTREMELY forgiving with failure (which will happen a lot, trust me) and I honestly don’t mind. I was playing on malicious difficulty and failed many times, but being able to restart right off the bat with a full life bar was nice and kept the pace going. The game isn’t brutally hard and you won’t find yourself rage quitting unless you aren’t good at logic puzzles, and set the logic puzzle difficulty on malicious for some daft reason.
In summary, Danganronpas gameplay is quite varied and interesting. I like the exploration and clue finding, and the class trials are really fun and tense. However there is the odd dud mini game here and there, namely the hangman one.
9/10


Graphics and sound:
Bout time we moved on. Let’s start with the graphics
The graphics for Danganronpa, for a PSP game are really damn impressive. Textures look nice and detailed for the PSP, and nothing looks extremely jarring or out of place. Character portraits are nicely detailed and well designed, with some characters having designs that are out of this world (namely Genocider Syo). When you’re exploring the academy, characters will appear as paper cut-outs for lack of a better word and will pivot to face you head on, doom style. Sounds odd but it looks perfectly fine. To top it off the game runs silky smooth with no frame drops in sight. I’d say it pushes the PSP to its limits. The cherry on the cake are the execution cutscenes which are animated REALLY well and have an amazing art style to them.


Now the soundtrack. In a word. Awesome. The soundtrack was composed by Masafumi Takada and it fits the game really well. From the kick-ass jazzy opening theme, to the epic sounding theme that kicks in near the second half of the game, to the awesome and strange track played during nonstop debates with samples of gibberish for some reason. This whole soundtrack is just AWESOME and it fits the game really well.
Voice acting is spot on too. Quite a few characters have unique voices to them which really make their personalities all the more interesting. By far though the best performance again has to come from Genocider Syo. I would link a voice clip but that might throw in spoilers, so feel free to look it up if you want but be aware, possible spoilers.


Overall Danganronpa is a gorgeous looking game with a great soundtrack and awesome voice acting to boot. It’s hard to find a fault in this area apart from the fact that a few of the songs are a little meh. Then we have the elephant in the room… The colour of the blood. They coloured the blood… PINK. Yes you read that right, pink. Out of all of the things in Danganronpa the pink blood I think is the most interesting. However, I found I got over it pretty quickly. Just be aware that despite the pretty morbid murders the pink blood can kinda drop the shock value a little.
(EDITORS NOTE. Nathan originally had a passage in the previous section about the presentation, and he had his facts a little wrong. He thought the blood was pink because the developers wanted to bring down the rating of the game. But I looked into that, and I found out that the pink blood was actually a deliberate stylistic choice by the designer to contrast with the morbidity of the subject matter. I pointed this out to him, but he didn't have time to rewrite the passage, so I figured I'd mention that in a note -Alex Shannon)
Despite that minor issue with the presentation however the game does look great overall.


9/10


Enjoyment:


Time for the most important section. How much did I enjoy the game?
Well, I started playing Danganronpa last Sunday evening at 8 pm, and I finished it on Tuesday at 5pm. So I clocked it at about twenty hours in around 2 and a half days. That should give you an idea on how addicting it was for me.
I had a blast playing through it. When I started I took the plunge and jacked the difficulty of both the logic puzzles, and action sequences up to malicious, and really I highly recommend you do that as well. Danganronpa is sadly one of those games where the first experience is the best one, as the answers will always be the same each time you play. To get the most satisfying experience you really need to play on malicious, as the feeling you get when solving a puzzle or calling someone out is just amazing. Danganronpa gave me a feeling of satisfaction when I solved a murder, or successfully figured out a puzzle which is something that can only really be done with a game like this. The story is very well done, and keeps you on the hook. Couple that with the gameplay, and you’ve got a game that is basically the entertainment equivalent of superglue. You won’t wanna put it down until the very end. Incredibly addicting, extremely satisfying and most importantly, fun.


10/10


Final verdict:
As you have probably guessed. I highly recommend this game. If you have a PSP then play the English patched version (Editors note: Be sure to import the game from Japan first!). If you have a PS Vita buy the official translation with extras, and then play the sequel straight after (which never got a PSP translation). Just play it. I don’t care what method you use, if you like games like Ace Attorney, and love logic puzzles then you will LOVE this game.


Danganronpa gets a Highly Recommended


Thank you very much for reading (this was a really long review I know), I hope you enjoyed it!
BDVR Guest author Nathan Green signing off.


Age Ratings:

CERO: D


OFLC: M (Unrestricted)

ESRB M

PEGI 16



Cover image from http://www.hardcoregaming101.net/

Monday, August 24, 2015

Sonic and the Black Knight

Sonic And The Black Knight was one of the first Sonic The Hedgehog games I did more than just mess around with for a few minutes and then forget about.
It was also one of the first videogames I remember being advertised on TV. Mostly because I was watching a lot of 4Kids.TV around 2009.
Let me take you back to 2009, when I was twelve years old, and my life consisted entirely of hanging with my friends at the library, reading Sonic The Hedgehog comicbooks, playing a made-up card-game, and watching 4Kids.TV and ABC Kids.
Back then, I didn't have unlimited broadband. So I wasn't very active on the internet, outside of afternoons spent at the library on their high-speed cable internet. And my newest gaming system was a Nintendo 64, so I was mostly playing Perfect Dark, Ocarina of Time, Majora's Mask and Rogue Squadron back then. I didn't have a GameCube or a Wii at that point, much less any non-Nintendo systems. So my first experience with the game was on a malfunctioning CRT television at the local library.
Whoever had hooked up the Wii had apparently either broken the television, or they'd accidentally hooked it up wrong. The reason I know this, even nowadays is because there was no color, and no sound.
So either there was something wrong with the television, or twelve-year-old me knew more about audio-visual equipment than whoever was in charge of the game-day.
Considering some of the people who have worked at my local library I wouldn't really be surprised.
Anyways, that was my first experience with the game. Not ideal, but it was still something. And that something stuck in my mind for a while. Long enough for them to get someone who knew audio-visual equipment to hook up the television.
So, I grabbed the Wii remote and nunchuk, and played the game for a while.
And I had myself some fun. I wasn't given much opportunity to finish it, but I certainly remembered Sonic And The Black Knight in 2011 when I finally got myself a Wii. It was one of the first games I checked out from the library to play at home.
If I remember correctly, I've beaten this game about three times. One of which was the playthrough that I recorded for YouTube. You know, back when I was still pointing a camera at the television.
If you follow my videos and articles, you should have figured out that I'm a pretty big Sonic The Hedgehog fan. And you can thank this game, at least in part, for my love of the whole franchise.
You see, even though this is one of the games people say is terrible, I like it.
To me, Sonic And The Black Knight is one of the top-tier Sonic games. Thanks in part to the story.
But, I'll get to that in a bit.
Sonic And The Black Knight is the second and final game in the Sonic Storybook series. The first game was Sonic And The Secret Rings, which I haven't played a whole lot of. But, I have played enough of it to say that it's probably on of the worst Sonic games ever made. And that's based entirely on the terrible controls. I'll probably get around to a full review eventually, but suffice it to say that Sonic The Hedgehog should not control with an accelerometer. A joystick or a d-pad? That's fine. But the Wii remote was not made to control anything that precisely.
Sonic Team apparently realized this by the time it came to develop Sonic And The Black Knight, and they decided to use the nunchuk's joystick for movement, like any sensible developer would have done for Secret Rings.
So, while Black Knight is still somewhat on-rails like Secret Rings was, it controls a lot better, and it's a lot less linear, and the levels seem to be designed a lot better.
Not to mention that it also looks a lot better, both graphically and visually. Secret Rings has a bit of a dull and lifeless look to it, with some weird, flat shading on Sonic, and a boring sepia tone to the games world. Black Knight, however is vibrant and lush, with great-looking environments, and good detailing on both the main characters and the enemies. It's a very good-looking game.
Now, let's talk controls.
Like I said before, this game eschews most of the motion-control ills that plagued its predecessor, Secret Rings, opting for a more traditional control-scheme consisting mostly of button-presses.
That's not to say that they've entirely given up on the motion-sensor yet. While jumping, guarding, and special attacks are assigned to the buttons, attacks with your sword are made by swinging your Wii remote.
Unfortunately, this is literally the only control-scheme available. Since this was both made and released before the Wii MotionPlus, you could easily recreate the function of the motion-controls with the press of a button.
And this game does not have GameCube or Classic Controller support. I would like to remind you that Dragon Ball Z: Budokai Tenkaichi 2 came out in 2006, and Super Smash Bros. Brawl came out in 2009, and both of those supported Classic and GameCube controllers. Yes, I realize that I'm comparing two fighting-games with a 3D platformer, but you get what I'm saying, there's no excuse.
So, the controls aren't terrible in all honesty. They're very responsive, and aside from the lack of traditional controller-support, there's not much I would change. Side-stepping is a little awkward at first, but that's quickly overcome with an in-game powerup.
Now, while the on-rails style of this game might seem a little undesirable to the general public, I actually kinda like it. I'm not the worlds biggest fan of on-rails shooters like House of the Dead (And I'll get to those and the Resident Evil rails shooters some October) because a lot of them would be better off as freeform old-school shooters like Doom or Quake, or Rise of the Triad. Fortunately this makes a decent use of the linear nature of the game to toss a ton of enemies at you and offer some pretty cool platforming. That's not to say that it wouldn't have been better-off as a Dynasty Warriors style hack-and-slash, it certainly would have been.
But as it is, it functions well, and I like it. The combat is pretty awesome, and the game is pretty well-paced in terms of both action, and story.
With that part of the review out of the way, it's time to talk about Sega's terrible method of approaching online multiplayer.
Just like in Sonic Unleashed, and Sonic Colors, rather than online multiplayer, Sega gave us online leaderboards, which nobody in their right mind should care about. Plus, they also gave us online challenge modes.
And they implemented it horribly. Rather than having a specific section of the game where it connects to Nintendo's servers, they wound up making you connect to the server every time you select a new challenge, and with the combination of my below-average internet speed, plus how slow the Nintendo Network seems to be on even the best of connections, that's way too much waiting to connect to the server, then to play the challenge, and then to submit your score, and then to disconnect from the server.
Plus, you're not actually playing against anyone. You're essentially playing a single-player mission where your score gets submitted to the leaderboards after you get done, and Sega could do that without making their players sit through a ton of loading-screens.
Not that leaderboards even matter. The fact that Unleashed and Colors had leaderboards too was just a massive middle-finger to anyone who wanted to transfer their save-files to another system. They were purely token online components added for the sake of letting Sega slap the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection logo on the box.
The funny thing is that this game actually has real multiplayer. It's just local. And not to rag on local multiplayer, it's just weird that Sega wouldn't use the actual multiplayer elements of the game in the online-mode. Sonic Colors had this issue too, where you had "real" multiplayer that didn't carry over to the token online leaderboards.
Here's the thing, Sonic The Hedgehog doesn't need leaderboards.
Unfortunately, when I was still playing games at the library, I didn't know Sonic And The Black Knight had any multiplayer. I just wanted to play as much of the single-player game as I could before I had to go home. And even then, the multiplayer game of choice was Super Smash Bros. Brawl. And considering how much vandalism went on regarding save-data at the library, plus the fact that I couldn't back up my save-files, I'd pretty much given up on playing the campaign through until I got my own Wii.
And even then, when I did get my Wii I didn't have any extra controllers, and all of my friends had either moved away or had fallings out over stupid stuff, so I didn't have any opportunity to play the local multiplayer either.
But, looking up videos on YouTube, I've been able to find out that it's a 3D arena brawler with about ten different modes, and seven different venues for battle (Which are all cosmetic since it's essentially just a square ring with all of them). And there are twelve playable characters, although in reality, there are only eight. In the order they're listed in on the roster you've got Sonic, Sir Lancelot, Sir Gawain, Lady Percival, The Blacksmith, Amy Rose (No, not Nimue), Silver The Hedgehog as Sir Galahad (Which helped contribute to the fan-theory that Silver is Shadow's son, in addition to his and Shadow's parallels to Future Trunks and Vegeta from Dragon Ball Z respectively) and finally, the only non-reskin character is King Arthur himself.
The other four characters are Shadow, Blaze and Knuckles. Apparently they don't play any different from Lancelot, Percival, and Gawain. I wouldn't know, because I've never played the multiplayer. The final reskin is Sir Lamorak, who's main-series counterpart is Jet The Hawk, making his only playable appearance outside of the Riders games and the Sonic And Mario series. Lamorak plays like Gawain for some reason.
Considering they don't have any offline challenge modes, and no race-modes, I'd say that the multiplayer they've offered isn't all that great just to look at. It doesn't look like too much fun, especially compared to better multiplayer party-fighters like Super Smash Bros. And that's especially true considering this game doesn't have computer-controlled fighters in the multiplayer mode. It would have been better to see the characters that appeared in the multiplayer of this game in Super Smash Bros. Brawl.
All in all, I don't think Sonic needs a multiplayer mode. Especially not in this games engine. In Brawl? Sure. Not this. There's not enough characters, and everything I've seen about the multiplayer says that it gets old fast.
Now, it's time to start talking about the plot that I like so much. As you could probably tell by the marketing, and the box, not to mention the opening of the game, it's set in the Arthurian mythos. With characters who appear to be members of the Sonic The Hedgehog cast taking the roles of several Knights of the Round Table.
Like I said when I was discussing the bizarre addition of multiplayer, we've got Knuckles The Echidna as Gawain, Blaze The Cat as Percival, and Shadow The Hedgehog as Lancelot. Silver and Jet's characters don't appear in the main-game. Apparently there were intentions to include them in the story-mode, but they got cut from the lineup during development. I haven't been able to find any explanation as to why, but I'd say that was a pretty good idea, since there doesn't seem to be much room in the plot for Galahad and Lamorak.
Speaking of which, I should probably start talking about the story, considering I said it was what I really liked about the game. Spoiler warnings inbound, so if you want to take my word for it that this game has a great story, go buy a copy of the game and play it, then come back in about three hours once you're finished.
I said it had a great story, I didn't say it was very long.
Now, you could probably be able to tell from the fact that King Arthur is in this game, and the fact that a lot of the characters share their names with Knights of The Round Table that this story is set in the Arthurian mythos, which is one of my favorite literary settings. Except that it's not set at the beginning like most stories are, it's actually set long after Arthur should have died.
How is this possible? Well, apparently some evil spirit possessed the scabbard of Excalibur, giving him more physical power, and allowing him to bend the world to his will. Arthur has survived what would have been his final-battle, and saved the lives of several of his friends who serve with him as the Knights of the Round Table.
But that all happens before the game starts, and you find all of this out later. The actual game starts about forty, to fifty years after these events. Long after the death/disappearance Merlin Emrys, and the birth of his granddaughter, rather (un)creatively named Merlina
For all we know, the entire cast could be second or third generation, and this is supported at least partially by the fact that Percival is female, rather than male. Which doesn't make a whole lot of sense if this is the original generation, since they have plenty of male characters Sega could use in her place, plus the fact that they could have called her something else if they just wanted a female knight. There are enough minor characters in the Arthurian mythos that they could have probably either found a female Knight of the Round Table for her to be, or just called her Jéane in reference to Joan of Arc and been done with it. Not to say that the whole story would be ruined by a female Percival, I think that if they'd decided to flesh out the story a little more with a prequel game or something, it would have been very interesting. As it is though, Blaze is really fun to fight, and to play as.
And personally, I prefer to think of these characters as the originals, since it lends some credibility to their motivation behind the actions they take in the name of their old friend, Arthur. In this world, Arthur has led them through thick and thin, saved their lives and the whole world time and again over the decades. Their loyalty makes perfect sense in that context since they probably figure Arthur has a good reason for his actions, and they should do what he says.
Anyways, in the beginning of the game, Sonic is summoned by Merlina to Camelot to do battle with the corrupted King Arthur.
This game marks the first appearance of chilidogs in a Sonic game. They've been featured in the comics and the TV series, but never in the main-series until now. Not really important, just something I figured I should mention.
Anyways, Sonic shocks and awes enough for him and Merlina to get away from Arthur and his minions, but not before Arthur manages to summon three of his elite Knights of the Round Table; Gawain, Lancelot and Percival. Despite questioning his intentions, they agree to find Sonic and Merlina and kill them.
Merlina gives Sonic a metal gauntlet, and sends him to find one of the legendary swords of the land, Caliburn, which has been stuck in a stone hill for a few decades. Caliburn is a talking-sword voiced by Casey Robertson, and he adds a lot of personality to this game. His interactions with Sonic are some of the best moments in this game, and their arc is great. Caliburn and Sonic go from being contemptuous companions at best to just plain not getting along at worst in the beginning, to brothers-in-arms at the end.
Caliburn is a cool character, and I like him. He also serves as the primary weapon in this game and Sonic is never separated from him throughout the entire game, so it would have been very bad for the game if I didn't like Caliburn.
But, Caliburn's blade has dulled from decades stuck in stone, so Sonic takes the sword into town, where he meets with the blacksmith, who looks like Tails. Sonic is somewhat puzzled by this, naturally. This is another universe. More specifically, one he actually knows, and seeing his best friend in a universe that's almost exclusively populated by humans and weird tree-people is pretty weird. The blacksmith is also the character who you go to when you want to upgrade your weapons and skills.
After confronting Arthur, and failing to fell the corrupted king, Sonic finds out that a mysterious power has emerged from the immortality-granting scabbard of Excalibur and possessed the commander of the Round Table.
So, to figure out how to beat Arthur, Sonic goes to the lake from which Excalibur was forged and meets with Nimue, the Lady of the Lake. She looks like Amy Rose, and Sonic is rather visibly taken aback by this fact. Fortunately, Nimue doesn't share her personality with Amy Rose.
On the way to the lake, Sonic runs into his longtime friend and sometimes rival, Shadow. Actually it's Lancelot, Knight of the Lake, who just happens to look like Shadow. Lancelot is a great boss to fight against, and his attitude is different from Shadow's cool, dark personality. Lancelot's grim determination seems to come more from his world-weary attitude than his lack of personal memory, or the tragic death of his sister and subsequent abuse by every single evil thing on the face of planet earth. And given what Lancelot has been through in the Arthurian mythos, what with all the bloody battles, the deaths of his friends, and his heartbreaking relationship with his friend's wife, Guinevere which led to an almost disastrous falling-out with Arthur. Shadow is a pretty good fit for Lancelot I feel. Especially since he's voiced by Jason Griffith, who also does the voice of Sonic in this game.
Anyways, Sonic defeats Shadow, and takes his sword, Galatine, and proceeds to the lake to talk to Nimue.
So, Nimue tells Sonic that he needs to complete three tests before he proves himself worthy. As you do in fantasy settings.
So, Sonic completes those tests with ease, since he's the fastest thing alive, and is on his way to report to Nimue when a small child tells him that her entire village has been abducted by a dragon (Which appears to be somewhat similar to the Biolizard from Sonic Adventure 2) and Sonic decides that hey, he's the fastest thing alive, and he can make it back to the lake in time. He's also a hero, so it's kind of in his job description to take on challenges like this. So he runs off to the lair of the dragon, and on the way encounters Gawain, Knight of the Sun, this universe's counterpart to Knuckles The Echidna.
Gawain wields a pair of swords named Galatine, and fights Sonic. I'll give him this Gawain is smarter than Knuckles by quite a wide margin. He's following Arthur's orders out of loyalty, not idiocy. Although one could make a decent argument that in the wrong circumstances, those two are the same thing.
Gawain is the nephew of Arthur, and one of the most courageous knights of the round-table. Honestly, I don't think Knuckles quite fits as his counterpart. Knux is just too gullible and hardheaded to make a decent counterpart to Gawain. But, I don't think his portrayal is entirely inconsistent with what I've read of Arthurian mythos. Granted, he's a little bit overdramatic, and I can't exactly see Knuckles as a great healer and ladies-man, but I like it. It could be better, and it doesn't inspire the imagination the way Lancelot's or Percival's history does. Then again, Knuckles has always been the character the plot abuses whenever it needs token conflict, and he's never been as well-developed as Shadow, or Sonic, or Tails, or really almost anyone. Maybe if he'd been treated slightly better I'd have more to say about his relationship to the character of Gawain. Or maybe if I knew more about Gawain. But as it is, I don't think there's anything wrong with Knuckles as Gawain.
The problem however comes from the boss-battle. Gawain isn't quite as fun to fight as Lancelot was, mainly because of his brutal brawling style as opposed to Lancelot's quicker, more interesting style.
Naturally, since Knuckles doesn't have the best track record in his fights against Sonic, Gawain loses the fight and, in a rather dark turn, attempts to commit suicide. Sonic stops him by taking his sword (Really it should be sword[s] plural, since he's never seen without two except in storybook cutscenes), tells him to man-up and fight for what he thinks is right and dashes off to the lair of the dragon. Sonic promptly beats up the dragon and frees the townsfolk, like he does. Because he's Sonic The Hedgehog, and that's what he does.
With that done, Sonic finds out that Nimue was disguising herself as a villager as a final test to prove that he wasn't just trying to kill Arthur for the kingdom. He passed with flying colors, and Nimue tells him how to negate the immortality-bestowing power of the scabbard of Excalibur. You must collect four of the lands sacred swords, plant three of them in the ground around the wielder, and then deal the killing blow with the fourth.
Since Sonic has been doing what a smart character in a fantasy-setting does, and has been stealing equipment from every single enemy he defeats, including bosses.
So, all he needs to do is get one more sword and he can take the fight right to Arthur in Faraway Avalon.
And since The Knights of the Round Table are on his tail, he doesn't have to wait long, since he runs into Lady Percival of Galles, Knight of the Grail, and counterpart of Blaze The Cat (Who's not even from the same universe as any of the other characters in the game. Then again, neither is Silver The Hedgehog, but whatever) pretty quickly afterwards.
And the Percival fight is great. The sheer power she seems to bring to the table is almost tangible. You can practically taste her sheer sparking anger when you fight her.
And the thought of Percival, who was a teenaged noble boy in the original stories raised in the woods by his mother until he met a group of heroic, selfless defenders, and then set out on a quest to meet King Arthur, in an attempt to join the elite Knights of the Round Table. And when you make that a girl setting out to become one of the worlds greatest heroes, going on a quest to find a magic dish (Not a cup. A grail is a serving dish) which can heal a crippled, kind old man that she met on her quest to rise above and beyond all expectations, I think there's a really good story in all of that.
So Sonic and Percival do battle, wind against fire, speed versus power. And it just rocks.
Percival puts up a great showing, but Sonic is faster, and he beats her. Percival is easily the most uneasy of the three Knights of the Round Table Arthur sent after Sonic, and there's a reason why I said she seems like the most powerful of all three Knights. She's the one who seems the most likely to utterly demolish her opponents. Not just kill them, completely destroy. She seems like the type to not leave a single survivor in her wake if she was set on a journey against evil. And as such, this defeat shakes her up a bit. She's ready to keep fighting, even beyond her limits, but since they're fighting in what appears to be an active volcano, the ledges are a little fragile, and she falls off the edge.
But Sonic, being a world-class hero of the ages, saves Percival. And that act proves his purity of spirit to Caliburn and Percival alike.
So, with four sacred swords in his possession, and the faith of the kingdom behind him, the newly dubbed "Knight of the Wind" runs off to Faraway Avalon to confront Arthur.
It might just be the fact that I've pretty much memorized how to beat Arthur, but I don't really think the Black Knight fight was that great a boss-battle. It's kind of hard to explain, but I think that it's a little lacking, especially compared to... What follows.
See, after you figure out the method to beat Arthur, it's pretty easy to take him down. But! That's not to say that a first-time player wouldn't enjoy it. And the first time I played this game, it was a pretty cool fight. And it's challenging if you're a newbie.
After you beat Arthur, the credits roll.
But this isn't the end of the game! Not close. We're only about halfway through the story!
If you'll remember Sonic Adventure, that game had a total of six false endings, where they rolled the same credits every time. Fortunately, this game only has one false ending.
See why I told you guys to play the game first? That was a huge surprise to me when I first played the game. And what follows? That's even better.
After Sonic killed Arthur, the king's body, armor and all dissolved into the same black mist that his soldiers became after their deaths. Sonic takes the scabbard of Excalibur and leaves to present it to Merlina. The Knights of the Round Table corner Merlina, but Sonic hops between them and Merlina. When Gawain asks where the kind is, Sonic mentions Arthur vanished in a cloud of black smoke, before Merlina takes the scabbard and, making a rather cryptic statement about eternity, plants the scabbard in the earth, destroying Faraway Avalon.
You see, Arthur was a real person, yes. But he was one created by Merlin, to serve as the guardian of Camelot. And even though Arthur was able to stave off his own mortality and the fall of his kingdom for a few decades longer than he should have, there was still a prophecy that he and Camelot alike would fall. And Merlina wished to use the scabbard of Excalibur to create a kingdom which would not end. But along that path, she stood a good chance of destroying the very world.
Sonic leads the Knights of the Round Table out of the crumbling island to safety, where they stand in shock at what Merlina is doing to the kingdom. All but beaten and broken, the Knights of the Round Table know not what they should do.
But that's where Sonic steps in, and reminds them that there's more to who they are than serving the king.
Nimue appears, and tells them that if they act fast, they can use their swords to form a barrier around the castle Merlina built from the ruins of Faraway Avalon. So Sonic gives Lancelot, Gawain and Percival back their swords, and they swear to protect the kingdom, and its people.
Percival questions Sonic's plan after they seal off the castle, and he tells her that he's gonna hop in and take down Merlina.
So Sonic, and the three knights travel to the far reaches of the land, finding the barrier-stones that will stem the flow of dark power, and planting their swords in them. But, the power of Merlina and that of the scabbard overwhelms the mighty barrier.
But without a loss of heart or pace, Sonic jumps into the fray, sword in hand. Beating his way into the dark castle, Sonic fights until he reaches Merlina's chamber, where she reveals that even the temporary respite that the kingdom has been given must come to an end. The knights, the Round Table, Camelot. All of it will eventually fall in the same way it did before, even with the best efforts of those noble hearts supporting it. And Merlina wishes to keep the kingdom from falling, to preserve the ideal world her grandfather helped create for all eternity. A world that can never end. It might be a noble effort, but a world that can never end is a world without new beginnings, and Sonic knows that. And that's why he fights. For the sake of those new beginnings. For with sadness, eventually comes happiness. For with death, there is life. For with the forgetting of the old, there is always the new. And without that new beauty, there's nothing worth living for.
He fights, and he fights, but to no avail against Merlina's power.
Finally, she launches an attack while his guard is down, which Caliburn blocks. But, the mighty sword is cleaved in two by the power of the dark queen.
By now, Sonic and Caliburn have become good friends, and this pushes Sonic even to go even further. Again, and again. And though he keeps being pushed back. Beaten by a power greater than himself, he does not give up.
Sound of heart and form, despite being beaten almost to death by Merlina, and being told to flee the battle by the Knights of the Round, he stands up. Clasps his sword in his hands. And with that, his theme-song starts up. If you haven't listened to it, look up "It Doesn't Matter" on YouTube. It's worth a listen.
The glowing light of the sacred swords blazes, and the knights toss them into Nimue's portal.
From the light of the swords springs golden armor, and Caliburn's blade ignites in a blaze of yellow light, becoming the greatest of all swords, Excalibur.
For those of you who aren't as huge nerds as I am, Caliburn is an alternate name for Excalibur in some stories. I'm sure this twist was incredibly obvious to some of you, but it's still awesome to me.
So Sonic becomes Excalibur Sonic, and he does battle with Merlina. And boy, oh boy is this one hell of a final boss. It's difficult, it's intense, and above all, it's epic. Throughout the last four years, that battle has stuck with me, like the Demise fight at the end of Skyward Sword, or the Sniper Wolf battle in Metal Gear Solid, or Perfect Chaos from Sonic Adventure.
Just leave it to Sonic games to have some of the best final-bosses in gaming, eh?
And to top it all off, Sonic and Merlina have some great dialogue in their fight. Not to mention that the backing track to the battle is just awesome. It's called With Me, and it's composed and written by Jun Senoue and Johnny Gioelli from Crush 40, as well as partially performed by them (Senoue provides rhythm guitar and Gioelli provides backing vocals) and features alt-metal Swedish band, All Ends performers Emma Gelotte and Tinna Karlsdotter on vocals, with former Megadeth guitarist Marty Friedman on the lead guitar.
So I suppose you could call this a Crush 40, All Ends and Megadeth collaboration if you really wanted to. I'm not sure what else to call it, other then a damn fine song. But, we'll get to the awesome soundtrack after we're done with the plot.
After Sonic defeats Merlina, he tells her that he knows how sad it is that everything has its end, but not to despair in that thought, but to live life to its fullest.
After that, Caliburn reveals that Sonic is the once, and future king.
The game ends with one of my all-time favorite songs, Live Life by Crush 40. It's an absolutely beautiful song, and it's the perfect way to end a game like this.
So, I promised to talk about the music, so here we go.
This is one of my favorite gaming soundtracks. It's got so many good songs on it, from the main theme-song of Knight of the Wind, to backing songs like Fight the Knight, Through the Fire, to even the smallest pieces of music, there's not a single part of this soundtrack that isn't perfect. If you can pick up the soundtrack CDs, Face to Faith and Tales of Knighthood, I highly recommend them. Longtime series composer, and one of the greatest guitarists of all-time, Jun Senoue, returned to work on this games soundtrack, mixing his brand of up-beat progressive rock with Celtic styles, and that's essentially the perfect way to make me like a soundtrack. Jun also performs a few songs on the soundtrack with his band, Crush 40.
I'd just like to mention that Crush 40 is one of my favorite groups, and I wish they'd have some kind of mainstream success, but for now I'm happy listening to their music on my MP3 player, I don't need to hear it on the radio. Unfortunately, Sega has been stepping away from the progressive rock and roll that made me love Sonic soundtracks in favor of a more techno-driven soundtrack, which, while it's not terrible, isn't the direction they need to be stepping. One of the main reasons I like Sonic games is because of the great music, and there's not a whole lot of techno and EDM that I really like.
Now that I've finished gushing over the awesome soundtrack, I'm going to take a step back and admit that yes, I've got a somewhat romanticized view of the game in my head. I know this. I knew this when I was writing the review, and I know this game isn't entirely perfect. There are a few times where they should have sent the actors back into the recording booth for another take on the lines, and when I was first playing Black Knight there were plenty of times when the controls got in my way. This really is the kind of game that would have benefited from GameCube controller support.
And while the multiplayer is terrible, and the online rankings suck, those don't take away from the quality of the game as a whole, as a tale of epic proportions, of heroes that refuse to back down from a challenge.
So that's why my final rating for this game is a 10.1*
Yes, I know a lot of people who don't like Black Knight. I don't know what's wrong with them, but I tolerate it because they're my friends, and friends are willing to accept each others flaws.
And I know the general reception was average, but I really liked this game when I first played it, and looking back on it now, I still do. Hell, that's why I spent all of Sunday evening and almost four hours into Monday morning writing about it.
So, if you haven't played Sonic And The Black Knight, go check it out. Copies of the game are fairly cheap, and pretty much everyone in the world owns at least two Wii's, so it shouldn't be too hard to pick up a copy and play it. Unfortunately, I've never actually owned a copy. I just borrowed it from the library a whole bunch. It's one of those games I really feel like I should own, but haven't gotten around to picking up. Like Goldeneye, or Arkham Asylum.
Eh. I'll hopefully see you guys with an article that's actually released on-time!

Sonic and The Black Knight cover from http://www.covergalaxy.com/

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Selma

Before we get back to the other games I have to review, I've got another movie on the list to get through.
I'd actually forgotten this movie was around. That is until I logged onto the homepage for my local library and I saw both this, and another movie that I wanted to watch in the "What's Hot?" section of the website.
This movie came in fairly quickly. The other one I'm still on hold for, and will possibly be stuck in line until sometime next year.
So Mark Wahlberg's Gambler is gonna have to wait until... Whenever I get it. For now, we've got Selma to analyze. And boy, oh boy. Are we in for a doozy here.
In case you didn't know, Selma is about the American Civil-Rights movement, lead by one Martin Luther King Jr.
Not the whole movement, mind. Just part of the movement which took place in Selma.
Now, as someone who has both done a lot of research into the Civil-Rights movement, and as someone who has access to the bastion of knowledge that is the internet, I feel like I'm in a pretty good position to evaluate this movie. I'm not saying I'm any major civil-rights scholar, but I feel like I know enough about it to be pretty fair.
I made it a point to not read the Wikipedia page for this movie before I saw it. That's sort of become my policy these days, to not do any research on a film until after I've finished watching the movie, or playing the game, or reading the book or whatever.
After I'm done, I research the subject of the review to death. I try and find out any and every little background detail I can to get as much of the picture of how the movie was made into my head when I'm writing a review.
But when something is based on material I know pretty extensively, issues with it start popping out at me without even having to have a reference on-hand.
That's the case here. Selma is based on a period of human history that I've done a lot of research on. The only periods that I think I know better would have to be either World War II or The American Revolution.
I know I'm not the first person to criticize Selma's historical inaccuracies, and I probably won't be the last, but that's what I have to do.
Now, I'm not a 100% stickler for historical accuracy, especially when the history is over a hundred years old. I'm not gonna say that you should be making a Robin Hood movie accurate to history, because there's no way you could actually research that. Nobody even knows if Robin Hood actually existed.
And yes, I like a lot of more recent historical fiction as well. And no, they're not entirely accurate to history. I'm not going to try and say that Captain America: The First Avenger is anywhere near being historically accurate, and I think that's one of the best war movies I've seen.
But you see, Captain America is about a group of fictional characters. This movie is about real people, and some of those real people are actually still alive to dispute what this movie says. And it's not just the subjects of the movie that could dispute it, it's the people who were actually there while it was going on. Who saw the movement in action. Who knew people who marched, or who marched themselves.
Now, the director of the movie Ava DuVernay has said that the movie is "a work of art about the people of Selma, not a documentary".
She's also said that she "doesn't see (her)self as the custodian of anyone's legacy" and she is "Not a historian, (she's) a storyteller."
Now, US Representitive John Lewis (Portrayed in the movie by Stephan James) has said that "We do not demand completeness of other historical dramas, so why is it required of this film?"
So no, historical accuracy is not 100% necessary. You don't have to make the hairstyles look completely like they would have back then, and I'm not about to complain that David Oyelowo doesn't look exactly like Martin Luther King Jr did. The big deal is that a lot of the stuff this movie gets wrong is public knowledge.
That's the issue. The whole marketing behind the movie was that it was about the actual events of Selma. That it was about the people behind the movement and their struggles to fight for human rights. And when you make a movie about those people, about those events, people have certain expectations going in. And even for people like me, who purposefully don't expose themselves to marketing for films have a certain expectation about the content of the movie. Just by the fact that it's about the civil-rights movement, and that the main character is Martin Luther King Jr creates the expectation that it's going to be accurate to history. That makes it a biopic, and biographies are seen as accurate depictions of a persons life, be it their whole life, or just a small part of their life.
And I have no doubt that people have been misinformed by this movie, who don't even know what all this movie got wrong. People who take it as 100% fact because it's a biography movie, and biographies are supposed to be based in actual reality.
So that's why I would demand accuracy from this movie, because that was the expectation going into it.
As a biographical film-maker, Ava DuVernay had the responsibility to provide us, the viewers with a movie that was based in fact. She had the responsibility to be respectful to the memories of the people she was portraying in this film, and she failed to do that.
The first big issue that really pops out is Martin Luther King Jr's speeches. The crew behind Selma was unable to get the rights to MLK's actual speeches, because Warner Brothers got the rights to them for a movie they're making, with Steven Spielberg at the helm. Apparently it's been in development since 2009, and we haven't seen anything much from it, but the important thing is that they've got the real speeches for it.
That's the thing, if you're making a movie about someone who is known for being a great speaker, and you can't get the rights to his speeches (As if they should even be under copyright anyways, they were public speeches made for the sake of the human race as a whole) you don't make that movie.
No. I don't want to hear your re-tooled speeches that sound similar but skirt copyright, I don't care. An MLK movie without his speeches isn't worth a whole lot.
Our Friend Martin wasn't a particularly good movie, but it had the I Have A Dream speech. It actually felt like it respected what it was talking about.
And yeah, the speeches that are made in this movie are perfectly fine. If they'd been the actual speeches, they would have worked fine. But I know a lot MLK's speeches practically by memory, and no matter how hard I tried to just accept the movie for what it was, there's just so much that doesn't sit well with me.
For instance, President Lyndon B. Johnson is portrayed as reluctant and antagonistic towards MLK. When I was watching the movie, that was the first thing that really stuck out to me as being out of place. And sure enough, I was right. Johnson was a lot more proactive in real life than he was in this movie. He was a champion of civil-rights legislation.
And Joseph A. Califano, Jr. who was Johnson's top domestic policy adviser (Including on civil-rights issues) said that the depiction of Johnson was terrible in this movie.
Andrew Young (Portrayed by Andre Holland in this movie) SCLC activist and US Congressman, ambassador to the United Nations, and Mayor of Atlanta said that Johnson and King were both mutually respectful, and that both understood the others issues.
Also, the movie makes it seem like Johnson ordered King to be spied on, but in actuality, it was Robert F. Kennedy who signed the order. Not to mention that the order was given before Johnson took office.
Others, such as urban policy analyst Peter Dreier mentioned that the movie marginalized the American Jews who participated in the Selma-to-Montgomery march.
Now, do I think any of this was done intentionally? Maybe. Some of it was definitely done in the name of fueling drama, like the aforementioned conflicts between King and President Johnson. The speeches were definitely changed on purpose, as we've already established. Everything else that they got wrong I'd say was probably either done for the sake of drama, like I said earlier, or they didn't care enough to check their facts, preferring to follow their artists vision as opposed to actual history.
Considering that Oprah Winfrey was a producer on the film, and that her company Harpo Films was apparently heavily involved in the production of Selma, I would have expected her to squash the false information and steer the movie straight on the facts. My disappointment in this film is immense.
But, that's not to say that it's a bad movie, just a disappointing one. It's very well-made, and well acted.
The cast is just great, from the main cast, even going on into the supporting cast. And the supporting cast has some of my favorite actors in it. Cuba Gooding Jr. as Fred Grey, Tim Roth as George Wallace, Dylan Baker as J. Edgar Hoover, and Martin freaking Sheen as Frank Minis Johnson!
Hell, this is a really good movie, even with all of the big issues it has! It's worth watching as a starting point if you want to start looking into civil-rights history, but it's not the end-all, be-all you'd think it would be.
And something else. It's also an incomplete biopic. It stops right after the third Selma march, and starts right when King got his Nobel Peace Prize. So it covers only a small chunk of King's life and activism.
I have no doubt that in a few years, we'll eventually see a miniseries based on King's life that's far more accurate to history, and as good, if not better than this movie we're covering here.
Looking back on this review, I feel no need to cover the actual plot of the movie. It'd be both too depressing, and pointless. Pretty much everyone knows what happened in the civil-rights movement, so me recounting the plot of this movie would just be filling space.
One more thing I feel I should mention is that there is a time-skip in the middle of the movie that misses a few weeks of time. There's no mention of any amount of time passing, and it takes a bit of thinking to figure out what just happened.
Now that we've covered all of the historical issues, the fact that the movie is but a chunk of the whole civil-rights movement, and how good I thought the acting was, let's talk about the theme-song.
The late James Bevel is portrayed by Common, and he performs the theme-song to Selma with John Legend, Glory.
Glory plays during the credits of the movie over a montage of pictures of the participants in the civil-rights movement. It's a Soul/Hip-Hop crossover song, written by Legend, Common, and Che Smith.
Considering that it's an original song written for the movie it's featured in, you'd think I'd like it, right? I like a lot of original music created for movies, but I don't like this song.
Let me go ahead and dust off my music-critic hat for a bit, and break it down. Now where's that single cover?
There we go. Thank you, iTunes!
So, what's specifically wrong with this song? Or more to the point, what do I think is wrong with this song?
Well, I like John Legend's music. I think he's a really good singer and pianist, and I've listened to quite a few of his songs. Which is quite the opposite of my experience with Common. I've never listened to a Common song aside from this one, I never heard of him before now, and I was not compelled to listen to any Common songs after hearing this one.
Now, I do really like John Legend's work on this song. It's on-par with the quality of his other work, and it's good.
Now let's talk about Common's work on the song. I'm not particularly well-versed in rap that doesn't include Eminem, LL Cool J, Will Smith or Linkin Park, but I would like to think that I know enough about it to make some kind of informed judgement.
Common's flow seems kind of weird. It doesn't feel energetic enough to be rap, but it's too fast to be spoken-word poetry. There also seem to be some editing issues (At least on the version that made it into the DVD credits and onto YouTube), with Common's voice just dropping out right before John Legend comes in.
And I listened to this part of the song over several times. There's no doubt about it, right before the final chorus, Common's voice just drops out.
Anyways, the more I listened to this song the more I began to think that this sounded like someone took a John Legend song and a Common song and just smashed them together, regardless of compatibility.
The best comparison I can make seems to be a similar song by Wiz Khalifa and Charlie Puth, See You Again. That song sounds like someone took a Charlie Puth song and a Wiz Khalifa song together without regard for compatibility.
Thing is, with See You Again it actually was a Charlie Puth song and a Wiz Khalifa song smashed together. Charlie Puth wrote the original version of the song as a farewell to a friend of his who had died in a car accident, and Atlantic Records added in rap-verses by Wiz Khalifa afterwards.
I can't find any details on whether that's true about this song or not, but it certainly sounds like it had that fate from the editing. If anyone in the audience has any details about whether or not someone at Columbia Records smashed two very different songs together in the hope of taking two stars and making an even bigger hit out of them, let me know. It certainly didn't have the same kind of performace See You Again did, peaking at #49 on the Billboard Hot 100.
Another thing it has in common with See You Again is that both songs are essentially carried by their pianists, rather than the rapper.
Honestly, while it's not terrible, I think that the song would have been much better if John Legend had just made the entire song, rather than collaborating with Common. Common's verses just feel clumsy, and out-of-place. Just like Wiz Khalifa did on See You Again.
So I don't particularly like Glory, but I don't think it's too bad either. I've heard worse, but I've also heard better.
And I don't think Glory deserved to win the 87th Academy Award for Best Original Song. Everything Is Awesome, from The Lego Movie, and Immortals, from Big Hero 6 were both better songs, and both of them were more deserving of the award.

Now, let's get to the final rating for both the song, and the movie itself.
All in all, the movie is disappointing in its content, but actually pretty well-made in the end. And the theme-song, Glory, is a poorly-edited Rap/Soul crossover that doesn't really sit too well with me.
I give Selma a 6.5* rating, and Glory a 5.2* rating. Neither are too bad, but then again, neither are too spectacular in the end either. Selma especially, considering its pretensions towards being an epic, yet not managing to get a whole lot right.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Story of Seasons: The New Harvest Moon

What happens when the developers of a popular series lose the rights to call their series what they want? They wind up calling it something else.
That's what happened with this game. Marvelous published the Bokujō Monogatari (AKA, Ranch Story) series through Natsume in America for about sixteen years. Then Marvelous decided they'd publish the Bokujō Monogatari series through their American branch, Xseed. I don't know if Marvelous gave the Harvest Moon name up in negotiations, or if they were unable to secure it, but now Bokujō Monogatari is known as Story of Seasons.
As such, when you look up "Harvest Moon" on Wikipedia, it redirects you to the Wikipedia page for the Story of Seasons franchise.
Natsume's Harvest Moon series has only got three games in it, and so far, not a single game in the series has been released in Japan. It's also not been received nearly as well as Marvelous's series, with a 52 average score on Metacritic for the entire franchise. And just going by the latest releases, Harvest Moon 3D: The Lost Valley has a 46 on Metacritic, while Story of Seasons has a 78. And from the coverage I've read of the upcoming Harvest Moon: Seeds of Memories, it doesn't look like Natsume's series is going to survive on brand recognition alone. Unfortunately, I couldn't find any sales figures for The Lost Valley, so I can't tell how successful it is.
However, according to Xseed, Story of Seasons was their fastest selling game of all time. It sold about 100,000 copies in North America between its launch on March 31st and July 16th.
And yes, I have been playing this game almost non-stop for around four months. Four freaking months.
Sometimes I wish I had more time so I could have finished the game closer to release. But I find that it's best to be thorough, rather than to rush it through.
Not that anyone could ever accuse me of rushing this game through. Not counting the YouTube app and the web-browser, Story of Seasons is number one in my most-played 3DS games. The only one I've played as much is Fire Emblem Awakening. Yes, Story of Seasons managed to edge out FEA for the number-one spot.
Having clocked over one-hundred and twenty-five hours in Story of Seasons, gotten married, taken over all of the rental fields, and made over four million gold.
Granted, I've spent most of that four million on food, materials, blueprints, and all kinds of stuff. But, I can make it all back easily. I've banked enough gems, materials, and crops that I can make at least two million back by the end of the year. I have two fields full of cash crops on my own land, and I have control of literally all of the towns rental fields.
Don't get me wrong, though. It was tough to gain control of all of those fields!
When the game starts out, you arrive in town and meet with Veronica, the towns guildmaster. She introduces you to Madame Eda, who teaches you how to harvest crops, how to take care of crops, how take care of your animals, chop down trees, prepare your field for crops, and how to both harvest grass and chop down wilted plants. After that, you get your broken-down little house, your used cow, and all your hand-me-down tools, and go crazy!
At first, when I started the game I was farming my little plot of land, watering my plants every day, milking and brushing my cow, cutting down wilted crops at the beginning of a new season, planting new ones, and selling what I reaped at the market. And I was making a tidy little bundle for myself. A lot of what I made was being spent on seeds, but I was able to stash away enough to buy some food when I needed to do a little extra work.
Over time I was expanding my field, cutting down trees one at a time to get some extra space for crops, (At least when I had enough extra energy that day) doing my best to make some cash and maybe woo one of the lovely ladies in town with some of the extra stuff I harvest that they like.
Then, Veronica came up to my house and began explaining what the blocked-off roads on the way to my house were for. They're rental fields, and the guild is going to be renting one to each of the farmers in town. She also explained that once the permit on the rental field expires, other farmers may challenge the holder of that field for the rights to farm on it.
So now that I had another field to work with, I wound up having less energy in the day to deal with small things, like fishing. If I wanted to be able to go to the Safari to mine for gems, then I couldn't do much more than the bare minimum of work on the farm. But I was still able to deal with the days chores in a decent amount of time, and in the given amount of stamina for the day.
After that, I started challenging everyone for their field permits. The rules are to sell as many items as you can for the most amount of money, and the person who sells the most for the most amount of money gets the rights to the field.
Or, you could try and see who has the best showing at yearly events, but early on, the NPC farmers have much better animals than you, and better crops than you, so you're almost guaranteed to lose if you don't pour all of your money and time into taking care of your animals and or crops. It's just easier to compete via shipped earnings.
Now, unfortunately I don't think they explained that you have to sell all of your stuff on a single specific day, rather than on the days leading up to the deadline. Either that, or I just didn't notice that little detail in the tutorial.
Looking in the in-game farm-guides, it doesn't detail that you have to ship everything off on a single day, though. So I don't know what's up, and to be honest, I don't feel like starting a new save-file just to find that out.
Even after I found out that they only count shipment earnings on the specific day of conquest, I still didn't produce enough crops or milk to be able to compete with the local farmers.
But Madame Eda decided to give me her rental field, since she wanted to downsize her operation and retire from farming. And that's when everything changed. The honey/mushroom field she gave me pushed me over the top, and I managed to take control of one of the other fields! That was a huge day for me in-game.
I saved for weeks and weeks, stocking up on veggies, milk, honey, shiitake mushrooms. and gemstones until I could sell enough to out-earn my opponent.
But that's when everything started getting harder. I wasn't quite working myself to death yet, but close enough that it was starting to make the game into a bit of a chore.
Then, I got another field. And then, the stress started setting in. For my character, at least.
That was the point where I was working my character into passing out at the end of each day. Waking up in the town clinic each morning, after having passed out watering my crops.
That was the crux of it all. I was successful enough to be making quite a bit of money, but in order to take on the other farmers, I needed to be constantly replanting my crops, and that cost me most of my cash.
And because of that, I didn't have any money for food. So I was in this weird situation where I was raking in thousands upon thousands, but I would wind up going for weeks if not months without eating.
And I couldn't eat any of the crops I harvested, because if I did, I wouldn't be able to sell enough to compete with the other farmers for their rental fields.
And even then, I was still getting out-sold and out-worked, simply because I wound up having to take a break and downsize my operation a bit, letting tea-leaves and trees grow on my main plot of land, and dealing with my rental fields and animals full-time. I'm ashamed to say that for a while I was neglecting my chickens and other animals. The chickens got the worst of it, and they were running away from home left and right for weeks.
Then came Winter. Winter brought a lack of rain, lots of snow, and no tea-leaves. As well as sorrow.
Do you remember the old woman who teaches you how to farm, Madame Eda? Well I wasn't doing much in the way of talking to anyone for most of the first year. I was having trouble just staying healthy enough to keep farming. As such, I even missed out on talking to Madame Eda for a long time. I didn't think anything of it, really. I figured that after I became financially stable I could catch up with everyone I missed out on.
But the start of winter held ill tidings for Madame Eda. She fell sick then, after a long time of not feeling well... And I didn't even visit her until she was on hear death-bed.
That was a huge punch in the gut for me... Such a sweet woman, and she was nothing but kind to me. It made me sorry I hadn't visited with her more often. And she willed me her property too.
That was when things started getting really tight for me. I had to clear the trees off the land to be able to plant any significant amount of crops on it, and cutting down softwood trees is a real stamina-sink. And the winter of year one was one of the toughest months in the entire game, because there wasn't any rain that month, and I was eating tons of cheap crops just to keep going as long as I could each day.
Fortunately though, after I got ahold of a few more fields, I was able to have enough money to buy food, in addition to paying for safari access, and gifts for my lady love.
But until I got like the third or fourth fields, I was killing myself on farming those crops. And I would just sigh in relief when I saw that little umbrella icon in the upper-right corner of the screen, because it meant that I didn't need to water my crops that day. All I needed to do was harvest crops, replant them, and take care of my animals. And the more it rained, the more likely it was that I could win a face-off without working myself to death.
Eventually, I got to a point where I wasn't selling anything on days that weren't conquest days. That way, I could almost guarantee a win. And from then on, I was almost unstoppable. The only thing standing in the way of me and ownership of a field was just time on the permit.
And as you can tell by that picture up above, I managed to control all ten fields after a bit of time and a lot of work.
The weird thing is that the NPCs don't seem to challenge you when your fields permit expires. Even when I forget to renew my permit for like a day or two, and I was playing on the hardest difficulty setting!
I always used to rush down to the guild-hall right before it opened at 09:00 and renew my permit before anyone could challenge me for my fields. And to my knowledge, nobody ever challenges you for your fields.
I've looked it up, and apparently all your crops will disappear if you don't renew your lease, but that's never actually happened to me. It's also kind of weird when your permit expires on a day when the guild is closed, and you gotta come back the next day.
As far as I know, though, as long as you keep renewing your fields on the day the permit expires, nobody is gonna touch you.
Even though your fellow farmers usually don't seem like they should be able to produce enough crops and whatnot to be able to compete with you at later stages in the game, they do. That's why I once made a comment on Miiverse about this being the richest town in the world.
After I took over the entire town, I decided to start shooting for the "Luxury" wedding package, just to show that I could. And I was close enough to a million anyways that it wasn't gonna be too hard.
After ranking my relationship up with my lady love, Iris, through lots of tea and amethyst stones, I held off on getting a blue feather until I had enough money to both fund my wedding, and to survive afterwards comfortably.
And that's how I wound up with two million in gold coins kicking around in the bank. Yeah, I didn't even save up the second million for that long, it took me maybe a month of selling stuff to get a couple of million bucks, after a year of working towards my first million.
Now, I'm down to about seven hundred-thousand in cash, after spending a lot on blueprints and materials for tool upgrades, as well as expansions for my backpack. I'll be back to the upper millions soon though, since I've finally managed to build the seed factory, and I'm now reusing seeds from season to season, which is saving me money, and allowing me to breed better crops over time.
A big part of breeding better crops comes down to fertilizers and mystery crops.
Fertilizer brings the star-rating (Read; quality) up slowly, but surely. Mystery crops are plants from Super Mario Bros.
You have three. One is the Super Mushroom, which advances plant-growth by two stages. And if you harvest your crops that are producing right before you pick the Super Mushroom, you can harvest them twice in a day.
Then you got the Fire Flower (Pictured), which burns down wilted crops and ranks up unwilted crops. Finally is the Starman, which extends the freshness period of unpicked crops to two months.
Personally, I don't think the Starman is as useful as the Fire Flower or Super Mushroom, since I tend to sell my crops immediately after picking them these days, keeping a few around to turn into seeds. Other than that, it doesn't really help me at this point in the game. If this was earlier on, when I was still stocking up crops for competitions, I'd be onboard with it, but back then, I wasn't even using the mystery seeds too often, and when they actually sprouted, they were always mushrooms or fire-flowers.
Moving on from harvesting and crops, to the marriage component of the game.
When I first came to town, I found the perfect girl. Pretty, thoughtful, and pretty much perfect.
And her name was Veronica.
After I found out what Veronica liked, I kept giving her gifts every day. I knew she was single, and I figured that was the only requirement for marriage. NOPE!
You can only marry certain girls in the game as a male, or certain boys in the game as a female. Veronica's daughter, however is an eligible bachelorette. The daughters name is Angela, and I thought at first that I'd be going after her. But then, by sheer accident, I met the girl I wound up marrying at a town festival.
All I did was just tap the A-button by accident when walking around the trade-depot after one of the town competitions was over, and I was just smitten when I got a look at her.
After that, I looked into her some more. I found out she was a writer, and that she was very sweet, and was pretty much perfect.
For some reason, they act like Iris is somewhat older than you are, but I'm not sure if it's just the anime art (Which I've seen portray people in their forties or fifties as if they were like twenty) or if Iris is just a Time-Lord. That's the same issue I have with Veronica. She's supposedly in her forties, but she looks like she's in her twenties. And Veronica's daughter, Angela looks like she's about ten.
Yes, that brings weird ideas of this towns history to mind, but I'm trying not to think about that.
Other eligible bachelorettes also fall into the category of weird art, like Elise, the rich snobby girl, who looks about fourteen, and Lillie, the towns meteorologist, who looks like she's eleven or twelve. On the flip-side, there's Licorice, a botanist from Konohana who could be anywhere from twenty to thirty, and the Safari-girl Agate, who might be anywhere from sixteen to twenty.
Then you got the eligible bachelors. I didn't play as a female, but I've interacted with all of the eligible bachelors just so I could say I talked to everyone in town, and I did.
First up is Mistel. He's Iris's brother and wound up being my characters best friend, because I talked to him every time I dropped by the antiques shop to drop off a gift for Iris.
He looks like he's about thirteen, but runs the antique shop on his own.
Next up is Fritz, who looks like he's fourteen, and he's essentially an NPC version of the player-character, as he's a young newcomer trying to make his way in town. Unfortunately, I wound up messing with his career prospects by robbing him of his attempts to keep and maintain rental fields.
Next is Klaus, a perfumer, and friend of Iris's. They talk a lot, and you can usually find Iris over at his house, talking with him if she's not at her house writing. He looks like he's in his late-twenties, to early-thirties.
Kamil is up next. He's a flower-artist from Bluebell, who's come to town because of all the awesome flowers. He also looks like he's in his mid-to-late twenties.
Then, there's Raeger, who looks like he's in his twenties. He owns the towns restaurant, and he's the one person you'll interact with most in town, even counting Veronica. Most likely, you'll be seeing him four or five times a day for stamina replenishing meals, whereas you'll only be seeing Veronica once or twice every day at most.
Finally is Nadi, who looks about thirteen. I haven't run into him yet because I didn't even know I could trigger his event. Since I'm more of a business first farmer, I didn't bother exploring the town outside of a few initial excursions in the first year. And now, since I've sort of technically "Finished" the game, I probably won't in the future.
Another issue with the art that tends to be a common issue with anime is that eyebrows tend to hover above the characters hair. I don't know if it's a stylistic choice, or just a money-saving thing, but this seems to be present in all kinds of newer anime and manga. I've never seen it in somewhat older anime, like Dragon Ball, Dragon Ball Z, Dragon Ball GT, Speed Racer, or almost any series Yu-Gi-Oh!.
And then there's anime-style artwork in games, like in Metal Gear Solid or almost any anime-licensed game. Or, for instance, in Brandish: The Dark Revenant or The Legend of Heroes: Trails In The Sky.
Now that I'm done talking about the art, let's talk glitches! This game has plenty, but let's start with the issue I've got a good picture of:
This screenshot was taken on the first day of winter, year 2. As you can see, there is one eggplant row still around. If you know Story of Seasons, you know Eggplant is a Fall Crop. And Fall crops are supposed to wilt on the first day of winter.
Unfortunately I didn't remember that Miiverse has a screenshot feature until after chopping down all the wilted eggplants around it, but I did catch the glitch.
It wilted the day after, but it was weird that it even stuck around the day that it did.
I also can't count the number of times that I've seen the towns NPC just run into each other and start vibrating in place, trying to walk through each other.
But what I can count are the amount of invisible walls I've run into. And they are everywhere. And I don't mean invisible walls keeping you from going out of the part of the map they want you to stay in, I mean places where the collision-detection for actual walls goes out beyond the boundaries of the polygon.
You wouldn't expect a game like this to have issues with AI pathfinding and collision-detection, but it does.
The two biggest issues I noticed were in the entrance to the flower-field, where the polygon collision on the left side of the fence extends into dead air. Then there's the above screenshot. You can't see that I'm stuck in empty space, since it's a still image, but if I had an animated gif, I'd show that here. Unfortunately, I still haven't been able to figure out how to either record good-looking video from the 3DS, or create an animated GIF.
The collider extends far beyond the cliff-face, and while it doesn't get in the way if you know where it is, it's still annoying if you don't know where it is.
Another fairly big issue is the fact that if you suspend the game with the Home button on the 3DS, and go off to Miiverse to post a screenshot, or look something up on the web-browser, and then come back to the game, it usually takes about ten seconds after un-suspending the game for it to respond again. One time the game actually crashed my 3DS, and I lost three days of progress. That taught me to save before I suspended the game, but I never had that issue again, fortunately.
I'd also like to point out that the game has a terribly inconsistent framerate, and sometimes winds up slowing down quite a git. Sometimes the framerate drops so low that everything starts looking very janky, and sometimes it shoots up so everything looks smooth. This is especially bad during the wintertime, and during storms, because rain and snow are being rendered  in addition to everything else onscreen, which might explain why things towards the edges of the screen start becoming somewhat hazy during the wintertime. While it doesn't outright affect gameplay, since this isn't an FPS or a platformer, it's a big enough issue that I felt it needed to be pointed out. That and the somewhat unreasonable waiting time between each screen makes me scratch my head and wonder what's going on under the hood that would cause so many performance issues? Especially since this isn't the kind of game that you'd normally think of as having performance issues.
While the 8GB SDHC card I have the game installed on is only a class-4, logically speaking that shouldn't be affecting the games speed or framerate, only the loading-time. But if it could, please point that out to me in the comments below.
From here on out, we're not gonna be dealing with outright glitches, just weird little issues I've noticed.
For one thing, the countdown text during the New Years Eve party looks all blurry. I guess they weren't using a vectorized font for this.
You can see that in the picture to the left of this text. Next up is the fact that you can give the wrong kind of treats to an animal.
There are five different kinds of treats, Moo-Moo treats, Flipsy-Flopsy treats, Baa-Baa treats, Cluck-Cluck treats, and generic treats you can give to any animal. Plus, you can only give one treat a day to each animal. That's fine in theory, but that means if you accidentally give the animal the wrong kind of treat, you can't give them the right one later. And in a coop crowded with chickens, and a rabbit, like mine is, I could accidentally give my Angora Rabbit, Dracul, a Cluck-Cluck treat, and bring his mood down. Or, I could give one of my seven chickens a Flipsy-Flopsy treat, and make them mad. This is just weird, especially in a game that doesn't let you train your dog in the rain. Or let you play with your dog or cat in the house. Or, for that matter, let you have more than one pet in your house. For instance, you can't buy a cat or a dog until you buy yourself a pet-house.
Hands up, how many of you guys keep your pets in your house?
Oh, lots of you? That's what I figured. My dogs live in my house too. That's dog(s) plural, too.
And I don't know about you guys, but I wouldn't build a fancy posh house with its own lighting and a copy of my animal ledger for my pets when I already have more than enough space in my regular house to keep a dog and cat.
So now I'm in a position where my cat, Shadow, has her own house all to herself. Not like a cat wouldn't want their own house, but it's pretty ridiculous that I can't keep more than one pet in my house. Because if I could not have that pet-house on my land, I'd have put my Seed Maker where the pet-house is. But I can't do that right now, because my cat is currently sleeping on top of the Pet-House.
Yes, your cat can hop about twelve feet in the air to land on rooftops like this one.
Speaking of building placement, I have to mention this little issue I ran into:
I was trying to place my garage in the winter of Year 2, since I'd just built it and I wanted to put it on my property. So I moved some buildings around until I thought I had enough room for the garage. Then I whipped it out, and got into position to plunk it down...
As you can see to the left, even though I clearly have enough room for the garage, it won't let my place it on the ground. This is the case with every building, you need an overly generous amount of space between buildings in order to put down a building. And you can't move your house around like you apparently could in previous Bokujo Monogatari games, so you wind up with enough space for a barn-sized building if you could move your house at all that just goes to waste.
Now, do you guys remember the screenshot I showed of the rental-fields up towards the top? Well, here's a look at my actual avatar. You've seen it before from a distance, but that's not really good enough. Here's a closeup. Look for differences between it and that image of the rental field I've posted.
Now, in that image, the representation of the character is blond, and wearing a hat. My character has white hair and no hat. No, I'm not complaining about it, I'm just pointing out that the sprite on that screen doesn't match up with my actual avatar. It's not an issue, really. I just figured it was worth mentioning, since I've spent four months playing this game, and about that same amount of time making notes of weird little issues I noticed. I like to think that I'm nothing of not thorough, and to be thorough means you point out everything, good, bad, and neutral. So now we move on from one set of minor nitpicks, to another set of minor nitpicks
Up next is weird choices of dialogue. For instance, almost every time Iris cooks the meal herself, she thanks me for the meal, as if I prepared it. I don't get what's up, but that's just a headscratcher to me.
There are other things where it doesn't make sense. Like when I was proposing to Iris, some of the stuff that Veronica said to us is just weird. I was snarking at that in real-time on Miiverse. Like where Veronica was asking us if we were getting married, or when Iris asked me if I wanted to tell Mistel we were getting married.
Or when Mistel, who was pretty much the best friend my character had, said that he hoped I'd invite him to the ceremony.
I was like "Buddy, you're gonna be my best-man at this affair whether you like it or not" and then the next day, at exactly 09:00 I rode my horse up to the guild and picked the luxury wedding package. Because I saved up that million for a wedding, and I didn't have anything else I could spend it on!
So yeah, the dialogue is kind of weird at times, but it doesn't take away from the experience of the game.
Mind you we're not dealing with anything in the way of Metal Gear Solid, Legend of Heroes: Trails In The Sky or Fire Emblem Awakening as far as story goes, since that's not what we're here for. We're here for the farming. And the farming is good. Somewhat stressful, but it's still pretty fun.
There doesn't seem to be anything in the way of an end for Story of Seasons, really. The credits roll after the wedding, but the game just keeps going on after you get married.
And I was looking at the ingame achievements, and I saw that there's one for living on your farm for three decades! I'm just about ready to be done with the game, and I'm not even halfway through the third year!
There's also an achievement for living on the farm for one decade. I don't even know if I could make it to five years before deciding to give up and move on to Lord of Magna: Maiden Heaven.
Anyways, now that we've finished up with the nitpicking, let's address a fairly huge issue.
I've had this game for over four months now, and almost every week, I've tried to access the multiplayer mode. I've tried it in the mornings, the afternoons, the evenings, and late and night. I've tried it on weekdays and weekends, workdays and holidays. I've tried joining other peoples games, and I've tried hosting it myself. Nothing. Nada. No hits. I've let the 3DS sit for like ten minutes at a time while I sit and watch a YouTube video, or The Sopranos. No connections. Not when I host my own game, and not when I try to join someone else's.
Nothing. For four months!
Then, yesterday I finally managed to get a multiplayer going, after a solid five minutes of waiting. And I only had one player join my game. And apparently she'd been trying the multiplayer for about two months, to no avail.
You'll have to forgive me for not using my own screenshots for the multiplayer. I took all of my screenshots using Miiverse, and in order to use Miiverse to take a screenshot, you have to be able to suspend the game. And you can't suspend the game in multiplayer mode. So I'm gonna me using ones provided by the good folks at Xseed.
But yeah, after all the waiting, all the mystery about the multiplayer, what's it about?
To sum it up, it's absolutely worthless. It serves no real purpose that I can see, other than giving the people who come to your farm gifts and receiving gifts in return from your visitors. You also get these wands with red stars on them that you wave at crops to increase their star ratings and at animals to bring down their stress-level. And you can increase your crops star-level with fertilizer, and bring your animals stress-level down a lot by taking them to the safari.
And the wand thing is literally the only thing you can do in online multiplayer. There aren't any fishing challenges, no crop or animal competitions, no cooking challenges, nothing like that. At all. None.
The multiplayer is totally worthless to me, and it's not nearly worth the hassle that it takes to enter the multiplayer.
And unfortunately, because of a rash of thefts of valuable technology in my town, I stopped carrying my 3DS with me outside the house, so I was unable to experience the StreetPass features. And since I don't know anyone who plays Harvest Moon, I didn't play any local multiplayer either. But if it's anything like the online multiplayer, I probably didn't miss much.
I'd also like to mention that the chat-function just sucks. The character limit is very low and that makes communication very difficult. You have to type out part of your message, submit it, and then type out the rest quickly. And all the while your fellows are wondering what the rest of the message is. Plus, you gotta type stuff out with the stylus, which really doesn't work too well, since you don't need the stylus in the regular game at all. Everything in the main game that you use the touchscreen for is big enough to use your thumb on.
I challenge anyone who uses a regular touchscreen keyboard to try and type on the 3DS keyboard with your thumbs. I got pretty good at typing on the tiny keys with my thumbs, what with the 900 hours I spent using the 3DS browser! But after getting my Nook and using the touch keyboard on it for a while, I couldn't remember how to touch the screen just right to type properly. So you're likely going to misspell a bunch of things if you try and type with your thumbs.
Not that you'd need to even use the multiplayer, since it's utterly pointless.
So, in the end, I actually had fun. I'd say Story of Seasons is a pretty fun game. I've never played any of the previous Bokujō Monogatari games, so I have no frame of reference for how this compares to them, but I'd say that it's good.
All in all, while it has some weird little issues with collision-detection, and some fairly large issues with slowdown and low framerates that I can't seem to figure out, I still had a ton of fun with Story of Seasons, and I'll go ahead and give it an 8.3* rating!
PS, sorry this article took so long. I had to put some extra finishing touches on it, which meant I had to delay it until today. Hopefully next weeks article will be published on-time!
Also, uploads to my YouTube channel have ceased for right now because I haven't had time to record any more content. I'll be trying to catch up on that this week.

Story of Seasons videogame provided for review by XSEED.
Some screenshots have been taken by me, others were provided by XSEED. Big thanks to them!