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Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Mary Skelter Nightmares (Nathan Green)





2017 has been an interesting year for video games. We’ve had a number of excellent new releases this year, the PS4 and Xbox One have been churning on with another successful year and Nintendo rolled out the Switch, a console that many people are gushing over but I’m still 50/50 on.

Among all of this however the humble PlayStation Vita, now over 5 years old is still very much alive and kicking with new games still coming out for it.
While 2017 hasn’t been anywhere near as active in terms of vita games as 2016 had been we have still seen some very solid releases this year. Out of the 2017 line up however there has been one game that I have had my eye on since the announcement trailer. That game is Mary Skelter, a DRPG developed by Compile Heart and published by Idea Factory.

The first thing that caught my eye about the game was how much of a drastic departure it was from what Compile Heart usually does. The company is more known for it’s Neptunia series so when I saw that Mary Skelter was going to be a game with a much darker theme to it with a much heavier focus on plot I was rather surprised. Granted at the time I never thought it would actually get localized so imagine my surprise when an official localization was announced by Idea Factory.

I’ve been looking forward to playing and reviewing this game for quite a while so without any further fanfare lets begin exploring the jail.

Story:

Right off the bat Mary Skelter provides a very interesting setting and premise. The opening details that the world of Mary Skelter takes place in a sort of post apocalyptic unamed city in Japan that many years ago was taken over by a race known as Marchins while the land around them transformed in a living, breathing jail.
Our two main characters, Jack and Alice, are one of many people trapped in this living jail, forced to live their days undergoing various types of torture in order to appease the living jail they are trapped inside. Things change for the pair one day though when they are suddenly broken out of their cell by a girl who calls herself Red Riding Hood (yes, really).

They escape and join a group known as DAWN whose main goal is to escape this living jail that they’re inside. Naturally this involves Alice and Jack working with the other members of the DAWN to fight their way through various dungeons with a hope of escaping.

In terms of actual story, while not groundbreaking or anything Mary Skelter does manage to provide an interesting and rather unique premise with a decent amount of mystery and character interactions.

Overall while Mary Skelter doesn’t exactly sport a groundbreaking story what it has is certainly enjoyable and unique. It does feel like Compile Heart put a lot more effort into the premise, character interactions and the overall plot than they have in other titles which is really nice to see. It’s not going to win any awards any time soon but it’s certainly above average.



Gameplay:

Mary Skelter, as I mentioned earlier is a Dungeon Crawler RPG. DRPG’s have always been a bit of a mixed bag with me. Some of them I enjoy but some of them I just... don’t.
It doesn’t help that the last dungeon crawler title I actually reviewed was MeiQ Labyrinth of Death, a relatively mediocre DRPG also by Compile Heart. With that in mind the gameplay would really be what would make or break Mary Skelter and in this case I think Compile Heart hit the ball out of the park.

Mary Skelter plays like your traditional DRPG. Walk around dungeons in a first person perspective going between floors, solving the odd puzzle here and there and fighting enemies in turn based random encounter battles. The base DRPG formula remains relatively unchanged however that isn’t to say that Mary Skelter is just another bare bones DRPG, in fact it’s quite the opposite.

Where the gameplay in Mary Skelter starts to shine is in the smaller things that they have added or tweaked. The game adds a surprising number of unique mechanics which I haven’t seen before in other DRPG’s and they really work in the games favour.

The first and most often utilized of these mechanics is the Blood system. Alice and the various other characters you’ll run into throughout the game are known as Blood Maidens. Blood Maidens have the special power to wield what are called Blood Weapons as well as the ability to actually effectively fight the Marchins. Marchin blood also helps extend the powers of a Blood Maiden in battle allowing for higher damage output and other such goodies.

This is where the blood mechanic comes in. How this works is that each Blood Maiden has what is called a “Blood Splat Meter”. There are a few ways to fill up this meter. The first way is by exploiting enemy weak spots by using the correct elemental weakness. The second way is by performing what is called an Overkill which is usually triggered when a character deals a blow to an enemy that is more than enough to kill them (for example if I dealt 100 damage to an enemy with only 10 HP left).


Performing either of these actions fills the Blood Splat Meter which the player can then use to perform a few actions. Firstly if the meter fills up to the top then on their next turn the Blood Maiden will enter massacre mode which significantly boosts damage output as well as applying a minor HP and SP regen effect.
There is a downside though. As Blood Maidens are dealt more and more damage or get K.O’d the colour of the blood in the splat meter will start to grow darker. The darker the colour the higher the chance a Blood Maiden has of entering Blood Skelter mode.
Blood Skelter mode is something you REALLY want to avoid. Upon activation a maiden receives the buffs of massacre mode but will attack both enemies and party members without any rhyme or reason. It’s something you need to be constantly aware of while playing since if you end up overlooking it then it can come back to bite you fast.
Now there is a way to prevent and counteract blood skelter but I’ll touch on that later.


The second use of blood in the Splat Meter is through the act of Licking. Yes, you read that right, Licking.
The Lick option in the command menu lets you Lick the splattered blood off of a party member. Outside of being a bit weird this does actually have a use to it since the act of licking blood off a maiden actually applies a buff or boost to either one member or the whole party. This could be an HP regen effect, SP regen effect, stat boost etc.

The act of licking also empties the Blood Splat Meter so it can be a good way of buying yourself time if you have a maiden on the verge of entering blood skelter since it resets the meter.

Jack is also a member in the party but he plays a bit differently to the rest of the members. For starters he can’t attack, instead he has the ability to use items, guard a blood maiden to block them from damage and most importantly use his special weapon called a Mary Gun.

I say weapon but you use it more like a supporting item. The Mary Gun is the main way you prevent blood maidens from entering Blood Skelter.
In a nutshell, Jacks blood has the unique trait of being able to purge corruption from a blood maiden as well as completely reverse the effects of blood skelter. This does come at a cost though since you are literally using Jacks blood as ammunition. This means you can’t just go around spamming the thing willy nilly since you have to keep a close eye on your own blood supply.
The less blood you have remaining, the higher your chances of getting stunned and being unable to move after performing an action with the Mary Gun. You do have an option to generate blood when Jacks turn rolls around and most of the time if you play your cards right Jack’s blood supply will rarely drop below halfway (this is where strategic use of licking comes into play since it can buy you time to generate more blood to purge the corruption).
It’s a very well implemented system which adds a new layer of strategy to the gameplay while not coming off as a half assed addition they threw in at the last minute.

I’d like to also commend the games pacing in terms of how it introduces new gameplay elements. The Mary gun and the whole corruption gameplay element doesn’t even come into play until the second dungeon giving the player time to learn the ins and outs of licking and massacre mode.
It’s one of the few DRPG games I know of where gameplay mechanics are sensibly introduced at a good pace so they don’t overwhelm the player with a bunch of stuff they need to get their head around right from the first dungeon.

Outside of the battle system there are a few unique gameplay elements as well, the first of these being blood abilities.

Blood abilities basically function as ways that you can interact with the dungeon in various ways to open up new paths and solve puzzles. Each maiden has their own unique ability and they all get used pretty equally. It’s a simple system but it works.
By far the most useful ability though is Alice’s rabbit hole ability. This essentially lets you create a save point anywhere you want in a dungeon as well as being able to use this point to escape from the dungeon back to the town if you need to. You have no idea how much of a godsend this has been at times. It essentially lets you save anywhere and provides a convenient way to warp back to town in an emergency if you need to.

Another element is the jail bonus system. This is basically made up of three meters consisting of Hunger, Libido and Sleep.
Filling any of these meters up starts a roulette which will grant a bonus to the party. I found that hunger was usually the easiest one to fill up with the next being libido and finally sleep. Really outside of a bonus here and there it doesn’t do much else and it’s really the only system I consider to be half baked in terms of execution.

Finally we have Murder Hunts. This is basically a chase mechanic. How this works is that each dungeon has their own boss enemy called a Nightmare. During your exploring at random intervals the dungeon may begin to grow dark. This is the sign of a nightmare being nearby. If it stays dark long enough then the dungeons Nightmare will appear and trigger a Murder Hunt. 

When a Murder Hunt is triggered the minimap will disappear and some text will pop up showing how close/far you are from the nightmare. In order to complete the sequence you have to escape from said nightmare which is easier said than done especially when you’ve lost your minimap.

If you happen to run into a random encounter during a Murder Hunt then you’ll trigger a Booked Battle. This is the same as a normal battle except the Nightmare will continue attempting to find you and if he does will start attacking you as well. Basically you want to get out of a booked battle as soon as possible. Winning a booked battle does have an advantage though as the resulting blood splatter on the walls of the dungeon will actually light up the surrounding area.

Now you might be thinking, “why can’t I just fight the nightmare?”. Simple answer. For the vast majority of the dungeon the nightmare is invincible. There is nothing you can do but run from him. 

This whole Murder Hunt system is pretty well implimented and actually adds a pretty effective element of horror to the game since these murder hunts happen at complete random so as you explore the dungeon you’re constantly aware that you could run into a Nightmare at any moment.
The darkening of the environment and complete removal of your minimap during a murder hunt only extenuates this fear since now you have no way of actually planning where you’re going to go, how you’re going to get there etc. You have to go off what you know about the dungeon layout and just leg it and it’s incredibly effective.

My only gripe is I can’t really find a pattern in what the game actually counts as “escaping” the nightmare. I assumed it would just be distance but no patterns were popping up there. Then again you could argue that this works in the games favour since it means you don’t actually know how far you’ll have to run or for how long until you actually escape the nightmare so your mileage may vary.

What is interesting is that Murder Hunts and nightmare appearances in general only start to happen from the second floor of a dungeon onwards which is a design choice I can totally get behind since it helps compensate for the lack of a mini map in the Murder Hunts by giving the player a decent amount of time to get to grips with the overall structure of the dungeon they are in so they can do a bit of planning ahead when escaping the nightmare since they know a bit about the types of designs seen in this particular dungeon. It’s a small thing but it works incredibly well.

Speaking of Dungeons...


Graphics and Sound:

The dungeons in Mary Skelter are very well designed and this statement extends to the rest of the presentation in general. Each dungeon has a surprising amount of graphical detail put into it with its presentation. The first dungeon has a very obvious Alice in Wonderland motif going on with spinning clocks and playing cards and framed pictures on the wall shaking about on their own.
In stark contrast the second dungeon, a graveyard, has a lot of coffin looking objects which have their lids fall off when you walk past (something which actually caught me off guard the first few times) along with garden gnome looking things sitting in the background which every now and then shake and pulsate as if they were still just a little bit alive.

Every now and then though the game likes to go a bit uncanny valley with its visuals by mixing in something like an eyeball inside a wall or a red intestine like thing which stands in stark contrast to the rest of the area but really pushes home the fact that this place you’re exploring is indeed alive.

It’s this kind of attention to detail which I really like and Mary Skelter is full of stuff like this. It’s clear a lot of work and effort went into the presentation and graphic design and that has really paid off. Mary Skelter is an incredibly unique looking game which sticks out in amongst the growing pool of Vita DRPG’s. It gives the game a lot of personality and charm which makes the world of the game memorable.

Character art is very nicely drawn and each character has their own unique look. Since the majority of the characters in the game are based off characters from fairy tales a lot of the respective fairy tales are reflected in the designs of the character.
Cutscenes also use that trademark sort of pseudo 3D type look that Compile Heart games commonly have in their cutscenes and like always it looks really nice.

Sound wise it’s a bit of a mixed bag. The game has a superb opening theme and some other tracks that really stick out but some of the tracks do sound a little generic at times. On the bright side I haven’t really had any music tracks which have got on my nerves so that’s a plus.

The game has dual voice track support. The English dub is a pretty standard Idea Factory affair, not bad but not outstanding either. The Japanese dub is pretty well done though.

Sound design in dungeons is also relatively standard although there are some sound cues and use of spacial sound and stuff like that here and there so there is that.

Overall sound wise the game is fine but not groundbreaking. The visuals on the other hand are very well designed and have a lot of detail put into them and they truly help make the game stand out.



Verdict:

After MeiQ Labyrinth Of Death last year I will admit I was worried that this was going to be more of the same. Thankfully I was very wrong. Mary Skelter provides the player with an interesting and unique DRPG with well fleshed out mechanics, an interesting story and some utterly gorgeous presentation.

Mary Skelter is also commendable in that it provides a game that is accessible to players new to the DRPG genre while having more than enough in it to keep genre veterans happy. If you’ve never played a DRPG before and are looking for a good place to start then I highly recommend picking up Mary Skelter.
If you’ve played a load of DRPG’s before then I’d still recommend Mary Skelter to you. There’s a lot of unique stuff here which mixes up the DRPG formula which alone I feel makes it a worthwhile title to play.


Mary Skelter Nightmares gets a Highly Recommended


I know I haven’t been very active this year in terms of reviews. The vita might be starting to slow down release wise but there still are quality titles coming out for it and I’ll be sure to keep covering them. Until my next review this is BDVR Author Nathan Green signing off.

Mary Skelter Nightmares will be releasing September 19th in North America and September 22nd in Europe and Australia for PlayStation Vita.

Review Code Provided by Idea Factory International.

PEGI: 16

ESRB: M

CERO: D

OFLC: Er... Let’s just get onto that.


While Mary Skelter Nightmare will be seeing a release in Australia with an R-18 rating (mostly due to how the game has been released unmodified from its Japanese counterpart so it retains all the... awkward screen rubbing mini games which can thankfully be skipped after you’ve played them once) the game will NOT be getting a release in New Zealand due to the game not being submit to the NZ OFLC for classification.

It’s a pain in the rear end but I can’t do much about that so if you’re a kiwi like myself you’ll either need to make an overseas PSN account or import it.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Saban's Power Rangers

Originally written for OutLoudCulture.com

Eight years. It's been nearly eight years since anything remotely passable was officially laid to film in the Power Rangers franchise.


    Power Rangers has had its ups and downs over the nearly 25-year history of the franchise. The show has come close to cancellation and been rescued numerous times, there hasn't been a movie in twenty years, and the rights have changed hands twice. The series originated in 1993 on Fox, was sold to Disney and hastily uncancelled in 2002, and then sold to the Saban Capital Group in 2010 and hastily uncancelled once more. The rights to various bits of the series are splayed about many companies. The first seventeen seasons are exclusively available from Shout! Factory on home media, Fox owns the first two movies, and Lionsgate distributes home media releases for everything from Samurai onwards. Their ongoing partnership with the Saban Capital Group led to the creation of this movie. Just a shame it couldn't lead to them buying out the television series.
    In case you were wondering, or missed one of the many times I've ranted about this subject over the last three years, I'm not a particularly big fan of the way Saban, and by extension, Nickelodeon has been treating this franchise for the last six years. Their overuse of the classic theme-song and series monikers grate on many of the fans, myself included. Plus, the downright incompetent production behind the last seven seasons of the show is just baffling. Haim Saban routinely spends approximately $35 million on each 44-episode series of his flagship cash-cow, and yet the editing, writing, scheduling, airing and direction has been below standards set by some YouTube series. And yes, all of this is relevant to my review of the movie.
    Fortunately, the crew behind the television branch of the franchise has a total of jack to do with the movie. There's no lazy soundtrack "composed" by Noam Kaniel, no Nickelodeon anti-humor, no overuse of series tropes, no Fujoshi-baiting fanservice, the Red Ranger's dad isn't a deadbeat/dead, the direction is competent, the editing is solid, the characters are compelling, and the movie doesn't constantly and consistently break in-universe rules and/or willing suspension of disbelief.
Granted, a lot of the latter comes from the fact that this is stylized, high-budget reboot of the original series rather than attempting to succeed what came before, but I'm still willing to give the movie far more credit than the show in that regard, mostly because what it asks you to believe are either easy to slot into reality, or things long-time fans of the show recognize, and can fit into the worldview the film presents us. Note that I said "most of", we're going to come back to that in a while. We'll be heading into spoiler territory here, so if you want to back out, this is the last chance you've got.
    Approximately sixty-five million years ago, during the reign of the dinosaurs, Zordon of Eltar (Played by Bryan Cranston) led the original Power Rangers team to defend the Zeo Crystal on Earth. Presumably against Lord Zedd, the series recurring lead-villain. Zordon's Green Ranger, a sorceress named Rita Repulsa (Elizabeth Banks) turned against him, and used her powers to kill most of the other Rangers. In a last-ditch effort to protect the Zeo Crystal, Zordon orders Alpha 5 (Bill Hader) to unleash a meteor strike on the planet. Zordon buries the five remaining Power Coins before Rita makes her final approach. The two of them are killed by the meteor, Zordon being buried along with the coins, and Rita demorphing before landing in the ocean.
In the present day, star-quarterback and martial artist Jason Lee Scott (Dacre Montgomery) gets detention for letting a cow loose inside the school after-hours, and house-arrest for demolishing his truck and other vehicles in the escape attempt. His father berates him for this the next day and then takes him to detention. There, he finds a bully, Colt Wallace (Wesley MacInnes) messing with a very strange nerd named Billy Cranston (RJ Cyler). Jason decides to take Colt down a peg, and in doing so befriends Billy.
    Meanwhile, Kimberly Ann Hart (Naomi Scott) meets some of her friends from the cheerleading squad in the women's restroom. They're not too happy with her, and decide to kick her out of their lives. Kimberly decides to cut her hair shorter with the pair of scissors they leave stuck in the wall before rejoining detention.
    After detention, Billy asks Jason if he can help him with something. Jason tells him he can't, since he's got an ankle monitor on. Naturally, Billy can get around this, and Jason agrees to help him if he spoofs his monitor's location. Billy gets Jason to help him haul some of his gear into an abandoned mine so he can look for cool stuff. Jason agrees, but only if he gets to use Billy's van afterwards.
Billy's incredibly strange method of locution leads to Jason bowing out of helping him inside the mine, but on his way out, he runs into Kimberly. The two of them debate whether they should just up and leave Angel Grove before Billy activates a detonating rod and gets their attention and that of two others. Zack Taylor (Ludi Lin), a local daredevil who was chilling on an abandoned train, and Trini Kwan (Becky Gomez), who was listening to music and meditating.
    They go into the mine and find a wall of peculiar glass with five glowing coins inside it. One calls out to each of them, and the colors are assigned as you would expect. Jason is Red, Kim is Pink, Billy is Blue, Zack is Black (No he's not :P) and Trini is Yellow. The authorities catch on to their presence, and the five pile into Billy's van. They try to escape, and nearly do, before Jason gets them all hit by a train. The five then wake up the next morning in their beds, in their own houses, not knowing what the hell happened. The only clue is that they all still have the coins, they're all perfectly fine despite having been hit with a speeding freight-train, and they all have powers like nobody has seen before. Not only that, Jason's bad knee stops bothering him.
Meanwhile, on the high seas, a fishing boat picks up the body of one Rita Repulsa, along with her power-coin. The reunion of the two restores Rita's body, but with a mental state far more unhinged than before. She kills a police-officer sent to investigate her body, and begins a quest to gather all the gold she can. Partially to restore her staff, which channels her awesome power, and partially to resurrect her trusted minion Goldar.
    At school, Colt attempts to ambush Billy and break his fingers (God only knows why he was using a technique that would likely dislocate your wrist and/or elbow if done properly, maybe he knows nothing about human anatomy) but Billy's newfound powers cause Colt to knock himself out. Billy becomes pretty popular because of this. He meets up with Kim and Jason, who both confirm their experiences. They're tougher, faster, and stronger all around. Their coins cause a bit of havoc in the school cafeteria, so they decide to meet up later at the mine.
    They try to chase down Trini and talk to her, but she runs and leaps across a chasm. Zack stops her from running further and the others follow. Billy nearly makes it, but falls down into the water below. Billy calls up to them, and the other boys follow. Kimberly has to trick Trini into following, but the five ultimately wind up down in the water. They dive down and find a strange barrier below. They cross it and fall into a spaceship below. Down there, they meet a mysterious talking robot, Zordon's assistant, Alpha 5.
    He introduces them to his master, whose soul he sealed into The Morphing Grid. Zordon lays out their task. The five of them are the Power Rangers, successors to Zordon's original team. They must harness their powers to protect their world and the Zeo Crystal from exploitation by those hungry for their power. If Rita gets ahold of the crystal, she can use the power it holds to create and destroy worlds. They have eleven days (The estimated amount of time it will take Rita to return to full power and recreate Goldar) to get themselves ready, or their world is likely doomed.
Naturally, most of them take this poorly and decide to leave. Jason is the last to go. He almost leaves, but Zordon's desperate plea makes him stay, and reconsider his position. Jason manages to convince the rest of the Power Rangers to return for training, and they spend the rest of the week getting into fighting shape. No matter their determination, they can't figure out how to Morph. Alpha decides to try and give them a bit of inspiration, and shows them the Dinozords. Mastadon, Pterodactyl, Triceratops, Sabertooth Tiger, and Tyrannosaurus.
    This is where we get to one of the few problems I have with the changes the movie has made. The Zords themselves are basically alright, except there's really no reason for them to swap the positions of the Mastodon and Sabertooth Tiger.
    The problem is that while Zordon and Rita came to Earth ten-thousand years ago in the show, therefore excusing the presence of the Mastodon and Sabertooth Zords in a so-called DINO Megazord, they came to Earth 65 million years ago here. Before the Mastodon and Sabertooth had even evolved. This could have been solved by simply keeping the ten-thousand-year thing and connecting Zordon's final battle with Rita with a different cataclysm in history, but considering they were foreshadowing Zeo from the beginning of the film, and appear to be foreshadowing Jungle Fury, I wouldn't put it past them to have the entire opening sequence of the movie be foreshadowing for Dino Thunder, since the subtitles at the start specifically mention "meteor" despite the object that actually wiped out the dinosaurs likely being either a comet or an asteroid.
    Anyways, Zack takes the Mastodon on a joyride, but can barely control it. Once he returns, he gets into a fight with Jason. Billy charges in to stop them, and spontaneously Morphs without realizing how. When they try and figure out how to replicate this, they fail. Zordon becomes frustrated with the lack of progress, and decides to send the Rangers home.
On his way out, Jason overhears Zordon and Alpha talking, and finds out that once the Power Rangers connect to their powers, the connection to the Morphing Grid will open up so Zordon can come back to life. This angers Jason, who sees this as Zordon and Alpha manipulating them, storms off. The rest of the team has set up around a fire outside, and they decide to stick around for a little while and try to bond. Billy talks about how he got in detention, and about how he used to come up to the mine with his dad. Zack's mom is dying, and he doesn't want to be there when it happens. Jason is something of a local superstar, so he's not too hard to explain. Kim holds off until later, and Trini generally has issues with the image her perfect parents and perfect family expect of her.
They return home, and the now fully-powered Psycho-Rita ambushes Trini in her bedroom. She gives her an ultimatum. Join her, turn over the location of the Zeo Crystal and live, or fight and die. Trini goes to the other Rangers, and they decide to stand up and fight. They head to the docks to fight Rita, but she quickly overpowers and restrains all of them, despite her incomplete Ranger suit. She figures that they have to know where the Zeo Crystal is, and she's right. She tortures Zack until Billy, who pinpointed its location earlier in the film, divulges the location. It's buried below a Krispy Kreme in town.
    Rita drops Billy into the water below, charging the rope with her magic until he's dead, and releases the other Rangers. They drag him up and attempt to revive him, but to no avail. They take him to the Command Center, and beg Zordon to do something, but he can't. Eventually, they realize something very powerful, that any of them would die to protect the other, the way Billy had. This unlocks the Morphing Grid finally, granting them the powers of the coins. Rather than choosing to come through himself, Zordon sends Billy back. This give the Rangers what they need to don their suits and take the fight to Rita.
    Repulsa sics an army of Putty Patrollers on the newly-Morphed team, but their training takes over and they beat through them. They summon up their Dinozords and set off for Angel Grove to take down Goldar, with the original MMPR The Movie theme-song pumping in the background.
They make quick work of the Putties, but Jason has to leave his Zord to rescue his father from his crashed vehicle. The Power Rangers regroup, confident that they can handle anything after the Putties, but Goldar is something else entirely. The individual Zords are no match for him, and the golden monster pushes the five into the pit he created while digging for the Zeo Crystal. The Rangers almost come to terms with their fate, but the Zords all link up to form the mighty Megazord. I'd go into more depth about this fight-scene, but it really needs to be seen to be appreciated. Suffice to say that you get to see the Megazord German Suplex Goldar!
Rita says that there will be more to come, more to try and claim the Zeo Crystal, but the Rangers just smack her into space, and she lands on the moon.
    All in all, this movie was better than we had any right to expect. It hits the sublime middleground between character and action that so many films fail to reach. The characters are generally about right, and the plot never missteps the way I've seen many films do over my time as a critic
I feel I should draw a few comparisons to another blockbuster reboot, Transformers. This movie does now what Transformers should have in the second film. It's got enough references to the original while incorporating enough musical cues and stings from the original series that the soundscape still feels connected to the original in theme. Brian Tyler does an excellent job on the music in this film, and it almost sounds like Ron Wasserman, or even John Williams composed it at times. The music forges its own identity while remaining true enough to the original that it's recognizable. This is something that we should have seen in Revenge of the Fallen, but didn't.
    Speaking of which, something the middle two Transformers movies lacked were decent characters. Fortunately, they don't skimp on character development. Nor do they stray too far from the originals, mostly. Jason takes command, Kim makes jokes, Zack is a cool dude, and Billy is still the oddball who speaks in such a manner that your brain goes numb like you took a bite of an Oragel creme donut. Trini is the only one who's really changed a lot, going from soft-spoken and wise to misfit outcast. Apparently she's questioning her sexuality too, but considering the looks she and Zack were exchanging, I have a feeling it won't be in question much longer.
A while ago people were making a big deal about the announcement that Billy was autistic. My reaction was "Breaking News! Power Rangers movie retains defining characteristic of lead character! In other news, Marvel has killed another beloved hero and replaced them with an evil clone working for Hydra!"
    Yeah, Billy Cranston being autistic has always been something of a given. His social awkwardness, his somewhat obsessive behavior, the near lack of a sense of humor, and the mind-numbing speech-pattern only a few people really understand kind of gave the game away. Sorry Wikipedia, you done jumped the gun on saying this movie was "(T)he first blockbuster film to feature LGBTQ and autistic superheroes." The 1995 movie beat you to the last one.
Alpha 5 is alright. I've said before that I like Bill Hader as a voice-actor, but they seem to have gone out of their way to give him extra lines in this movie that really shouldn't have been in the final product. It's nothing too too bad, but enough of the original Alpha would get on anyone's nerves too.
Now we come to Zordon. Bryan Cranston was perhaps the perfect choice for Zordon of Eltar, and the portrayal of the character in this movie is pitch perfect. Cunning, intelligent, loads of patience, and self-sacrificing to a fault. The scene where he resurrects Billy instead of himself had echoes of the In Space finale playing in my head, which tells me that director Dean Israelite and the writing team know what they're doing, and will handle it well.
    Finally, Rita Repulsa. Elizabeth Banks was the perfect choice for this role, hands down, and this movie does a lot more to show her as a viable threat than the show usually did. Rather than sit around her base on the moon sending monsters after the Rangers, she overpowers them herself and kills people. I like Crazy Rita a lot, and this character will fit in well once Lord Zedd shows up.
A few minor things to mention. I was a little disappointed that they didn't get Austin St. John to play Jason's father, since David Denman basically looks like a discount version of him. Amy Jo Johnson and Jason David Frank's cameos were cool, but JDF and AJ should have been either teachers at the school, or parents of one of the Power Rangers (Possibly Kimberly).
    On that note though, I'm glad they didn't go all-out the way the DC television series have been and have all the previous Power Rangers they could find play small roles in this movie, because that would have been going overboard.
    Finally, the designs. I like the suits generally, but the silver highlights could have been white, and the helmets all look a little strange. I hope this is something they fix in future, along with the design of the Megazord not really matching up with the individual Zords. I like the new Megazord, it looks a hell of a lot better than the toy versions did, but it still could be a bit more coherent in design. More color and flash, less generic metal.
    Now that I've gotten what I think of the movie out of the way, here are a few things that I would like to see out of the first of the six confirmed sequels.
    First off, bring in Tommy as-is. Give us our long-haired, green-bedecked native American charismatic ass-kicker who can stand toe to toe with Jason and either tie or win. Don't gender-swap him as has been rumored. Give his suit plenty of gold, and make sure to give him some kind of Morphing sequence. Re-create the fight between him and Jason, possibly within an MMA cage. Something else, make sure to give him an actual Dragon Dagger, and an actual Sword of Darkness. The Power Sword was cool, but Tommy's gear should remain as unchanged as possible while remaining coherent with the rest of the aesthetic. Something else to mention is that you'd better make the Dragonzord look cool, and you'd better tell Bandai to make the toy version compatible with the previously released Dinozords.
    The suits are mostly alright, the helmets could use a bit of a change to look more like the animals they're based on, or even just the original helmets. Tommy's helmet especially could use an overhaul to be a bit more unique. Without the teeth it doesn't really look all that threatening. Also make sure that the Dragon Shield is detachable, and tell Bandai to do the same for Tommy's Legacy and Action Hero figures.
    The only thing I would really change about the suits would be to change all of the silver on them to white to throw back to the original series a bit.
    Now, let's address the product placement. It's fine. It's barely there and they actually kind of make a joke out of it. It's fine. Just don't take too far, okay Lionsgate?
    The second movie is where Brian Tyler should kick right in with recreating musical cues from the original score. 5-4-1, Fight, We Need A Hero, Go Go Power Rangers, and especially Go Green Ranger, Go! If Tommy's going to be one of the primary antagonists, then his theme-song should be in the movie. If you can't get Ron Wasserman back to do the vocals, then make sure you get someone who has a similar kind of voice for vocals. Kevin Rudolph wouldn't be a bad choice, but this is something you need to work on until you find the right guy for the job.
    Going back to the characters, there was a romance sub-plot with Jason and Kimberly that was cut from the final version of the movie. I think this was a good choice, since it kind of throws a wrench into the plot-integral Tom/Kim romance later on. All I have to say is that unless Naomi Scott or whoever winds up playing Tommy dies somewhere along the line, you'd better not split these characters up. Hell, going into the season two, three, and Zeo adaptations, you'd better not replace any of the characters unless you absolutely have to. You're not working with Sentai footage at all, so you might as well go all out on the plot. I just hope that the Thunder Megazord is done justice.
    Anyways, even though I've been laying down all this fan-service I want to see, it's important to not go too heavy on it. I see that they're foreshadowing at least sixteen series into the future, but you have to know what to cut and what to leave. It will be perfectly fine if they skip straight to the Green With Evil arc for the second movie, as long as the second movie is littered with some decent character development. After that, they should slow down a bit and make at least one more movie before hitting the Green Candle arc. Once they hit Green Candle, I expect to see some hardcore action and visceral confrontation between Tommy and Lord Zedd.
    As much as I would caution against fan-service for the sake of it, I would love to see Bulk and Skull in the next movie. Just make sure they don't turn into Victor and Monty from Ninja Steel.
In the end, this was one hell of a movie and I definitely recommend it. Pick up the soundtrack after you see the film too, because Brian Tyler did a damn good job on the score. It'll have you on an emotional roller-coaster from start to finish. The characters are pretty great interpretations of the original, and the movie is at least as good as the Boom! Studios comics, if not better.

Image from Impawards.com

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Steins;Gate 0 (Nathan Green)



 Out of all the titles I was excited for this year, Steins;Gate 0 was pretty high up on the list. I remember watching the anime of Steins;Gate and adoring it so much that I went and played the game soon after. Steins;Gate 0 isn’t exactly a sequel or prequel to the first game, rather it expands upon the events that took place so that the true ending of the first title was even possible to begin with. It’s an interesting concept, which made me excited for what I was going to see it pull off. With that being said this review WILL CONTAIN SPOILERS FOR THE FIRST GAME. I’ll try to keep Steins;Gate 0 spoilers to a minimum but the final part of this review will be potentially spoilerific due to the subject matter so if you haven’t played Steins;Gate 0 yet then stop reading when you reach the spoiler warning. Anyways, without further ado, let's time leap!


Graphics and Sound:
Now I usually do this section later but since Steins;Gate 0 is a visual novel, the majority of this review is going to be focusing on the story so I’m saving that till last.
The first Steins;Gate was game that looked great and sounded great. The art was unique, the soundtrack varied and memorable, and the voice acting spot on. Steins;Gate 0 unsurprisingly continues this with some excellent art (albeit in a different style to that of the first game), an excellent soundtrack, and great voice acting.

Art-wise the actual art-style has seen a significant change with characters looking closer to how they looked in the anime than then first game. Old art does show up from time to time though, and it can get a bit daunting seeing it mixed in with the new art. It’s not a huge issue, but it is awkward at times. (Editors note; Think back to the Morrigan sprite that Capcom kept re-using in all of the SNK vs Capcom games if you need a point of reference.)
The soundtrack contains a mix of happy go lucky tunes, more intense nerve racking tracks and some really beautiful tracks which usually accompany the more important moments in the game. My favorite track would probably have to be Hoshi No Kanaduru Uta. More specifically, the rendition of it which accompanies the end credits for one route. The vocals on that version really make it that bit better, especially since they were sung by the Voice-Actor for the character of Kagari. The soundtrack does a good job of both setting the tone of the scene and adding to the overall memorability of scenes. It does exactly what a good soundtrack in a visual novel should do, and it does it well.
For voice acting, the entire cast of the original Steins;Gate retain their original voice actors, and they all sound as good as ever. Line deliveries are enthusiastic and really do make the characters feel more alive. The new characters also sound good with some solid performances all around, my favorite being from Maho Hiyajo, whose VA perfectly reflects her character in her acting. Dr. Leskinen's voice actor is a bit goofy with his broken English thrown everywhere, but overall his performance is pretty darn good as well.

Gameplay:
Being a visual novel, Steins;Gate 0 doesn’t really try to sell itself on gameplay. Overall it’s a pretty standard visual novel affair although it is less linear than the first game. All the visual novel basics are present along with the ability to both lock your save file to prevent yourself accidentally saving over it (a very welcome addition) and automatic quick saves which allow you to pick up at important events in the game if you aren’t liking the results of your decision. It’s a small but very welcome change and is something I wish more VNs had. Also present is the tips system which provides you with information on special objects, items etc that are mentioned in the game. A vast majority of these tips are quite useful and helped clear up some confusion I had surrounding some things but some are a bit on the silly side, so your mileage may vary. You’re also able to advance text and menus using the Vita's touchscreen, although you can disable this if you’d prefer otherwise.
The only slightly irritating thing about the game is that the only way to access the dialog archive in case you miss something is to pause the game and select it. A vast majority of visual novels have a button that allows you to quickly access the archive without needing to pause the game so this comes off as a bit clunky. It doesn’t help that the menus lag, and aside from the main menu, you aren’t given any visual or audio feedback upon selecting an item, which can be awkward. I also found myself having to reboot my Vita on one occasion, because Livearea had slowed to a crawl after leaving the game open for so long. Again, your millage may vary.


Story:
With Steins;Gate 0 being a visual novel, the story is the most important aspect, and for the most part Steins;Gate 0 does a good job at crafting a solid plot with a believable set of characters. However it isn’t perfect. I’ll touch on why later on. For now though lets look at the characters.

The entire cast of the original Steins;Gate makes a return with the obvious exception of Kurisu who is well… dead. We also see a variety of newcomers in the form of Maho Hiyajo and Dr Leskinen from an American University that Kurisu used to attend. Fubuki, Yuki and Kadee, who are close friends of Maiyurii, and finally Armadeus, an AI who takes on the form of Kurisu for most of the game. Out of all these new characters, I’d have to say my personal favorite would have to be Maho, one of Kurisu’s closest friends before she passed away. The story does a great job of portraying her as a likable well rounded character, and portrays her inner struggle and love hate relationship with Kurisu very well.
Story-wise, Steins;Gate 0 in and of itself takes place before the true ending of the original Steins;Gate, so if you have not played Steins;Gate, then play that before even thinking about touching Steins;Gate 0.
In essence, Steins;Gate's true ending involves our main character, Okabe receiving a video from himself twelve years in the future giving him the keys to discover the world line knows as steins gate, a world line where neither his childhood friend Maiyurii, or his lover Kurisu has to die. Now that’s all fine and dandy, but how the heck did that video even get sent in the first place? This is the basic premise behind Steins;Gate 0. It works on filling in the gaps present in the true ending of Steins;Gate and bring a bit more closure to everything. On top of that. Steins;Gate 0 goes more into depth around the concepts of AI, time travel and time manipulation, and the consequences of such technologies, which is something I absolutely love. The portrayal of these topics is very well done, and most importantly, thought provoking. There’s a lot more of them as well. While Steins;Gate 0 does have its fair share of slice of life bits, it is far darker in tone than the original Steins;Gate. This really works in its favor, with the story exploring more possibilities that really wouldn’t have been possible in the original game. There’s a constant feeling of danger as the group realizes the size of what they have gotten themselves into, and it makes for an incredibly gripping read. It isn’t as dark as say, Zero Escape but it doesn’t need to be. The story is also paced really well, which really helps a ton.
All this stands true for the vast majority of the game, and compared to the original the story had definitely improved on the problems the original had with pacing and tone. HOWEVER, Steins;Gate 0 isn’t perfect. While the vast majority of the story is excellent the remaining minority kinda crashes and burns. Let me explain, but first here’s your obligatory spoiler warning.
SPOILER ALERT FOR STEINS;GATE 0! DO NOT READ THIS PART IF YOU HAVE NOT FINISHED STEINS;GATE 0. SKIP AHEAD TO THE VERDICT SECTION TO HEAR MY OVERALL THOUGHTS. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED. SERIOUSLY, I’M NOT JOKING.
I’m going to be blunt, Steins;Gate 0's story feels a bit unfinished. I came away from the game feeling like I had missed something or that a chunk of the game was missing. Now I’m not talking about the obvious cliff hanger due to how Steins;Gate 0 carries directly into the true end of Steins;Gate. The problem is that the true ending to Steins;Gate 0 is so incredibly disconnected from the events of the other endings that it in fact drags the rest of the game down with it a bit. Up until then the other 5 endings had been pretty incredible and had dropped little mysteries and tid bits here and there that stuck with me and kept me hyped up for the true ending where I’d learn what was going on. Then I actually played the true ending. My hype turned to confusion which then turned to disbelief which then turned to disappointment.
The true ending, rather than serving as an epic conclusion to my twenty-hour journey, was more the closest thing the game could do to blowing its own foot off with a rocket launcher. It commits one of the cardinal sins of storytelling by NOT SOLVING ALL THE MYSTERIES IT SPENT TIME CREATING. Not only that but the extent that it does this to is enough to drag the rest of the game down with it. All those mysteries you had learned in the other endings? All that stuff that happened when Armadeus got deleted in Maho's ending? The mystery surrounding the song in Kagari's ending? Kagari's lost memories? I hope you weren’t expecting answers to any of those mysteries because the game NEVER EXPLAINS THEM. Yes, those technically happened in separate world lines, so from a story perspective it at least has an explanation as to why it doesn’t get explained. However that doesn’t make it any less frustrating.
It ALSO doesn’t excuse the true ending from not answering questions about mysteries and events that happened in its OWN DAMN WORLD LINE. Who was that guy who attacked Maho, Okabe and the Professor in the carpark? What was all that garbage text Armadeus Kurisu left to Maho as a message on @channel? Why was Yuki given plastic surgery and brain washed with Kagari's memories? Where even WAS Kagari in this world line? All these seemingly important events and mysteries that happen in the true ending's world line? NEVER. EXPLAINED. What the hell happened?!? Why put in mysteries to advance the plot and then never give the player closure on the damn things? It isn’t like the player is left enough hints to figure it out themselves so they’re just left scratching their head and wondering where the rest of the game went.
The true ending to Steins;Gate 0 is simply a train wreck. That isn’t to say it isn’t enjoyable, on the contrary, I still enjoyed reading through the true ending. However the unfinished feeling it leaves the player with upon finishing it along with how it unsuccessfully ties up a surprisingly large number of mysteries CAN and most likely WILL get on your nerves. It isn’t enough to ruin the whole game and make me feel like I wasted my money but it is enough to weigh on my mind for a few days while the game is still fresh in my mind.
SPOILERS END HERE


Verdict:
Steins;Gate 0 is an interesting one. If it weren’t for all the loose plot threads and the train wreck of a final ending I’d have no trouble recommending it to anyone who had played the original Steins;Gate. However, it isn’t perfect and the flaws that it does have are in areas which are very likely to effect your potential millage. If there was ever a game fitting of a Your Millage May Vary badge it’s this one. The vast majority of the game is absolutely excellent, with a great story exploring the potential consequences of AI, time travel and a third world war coupled with excellent character development and great pacing but the overall penultimate ending to everything kinda causes the story to run itself smack into a solid steel wall because it wasn’t looking where it was going.
Granted the fact that the true ending ended the way it did was due to Steins;Gate 0’s placement on the overall timeline but I still feel that even taking that into account they could have done better than what we got. It isn’t a deal breaker but it does mean the satisfaction you get from finishing the game is a bit dampened.
Despite the shoddy true ending, Steins;Gate 0 is still well worth playing if you are a die hard fan of the original Steins;Gate. I have no doubt in my mind that you’ll love it if you loved the original. If you’re on the fence about Steins;Gate 0, then you really need to consider one thing, “Do I really care that much if the game ends with mysteries left unsolved?”. If the answer to that question is "No" then by all means go and play Steins;Gate 0, you’ll be in for a treat. However if unsolved mysteries are more of a big deal to you then I’d probably either wait for a price drop or give it a miss. For the most part though the experience Steins;Gate 0 gives you is well worth the price of admission.
For Steins;Gate fans, Steins;Gate 0 gets a Highly Recommended.
For those on the fence about it Steins;Gate 0 gets a Recommended, but wait for a sale first.
For those of you who haven’t played/seen Steins;Gate, Steins;Gate 0 gets a PLAY THE ORIGINAL FIRST YOU GOOF.
Seriously, if you haven’t played the original Steins;Gate yet and are interested in Steins;Gate 0 then PLAY THE FIRST GAME OR WATCH THE ANIME ADAPTION FIRST. I can’t force you, but you’ll be doing yourself a disservice if you do otherwise.
Wow, the last review of 2016 from me (although by the time this goes up it will probably be 2017 already but I wrote this on December 31st so meh). At the time of writing I would have had my Vita for exactly one year now and what a year it has been. I can’t wait to see what is in store for the Vita in 2017 but I’m hoping to potentially get a review of Danganronpa V3, Mary Skelter and a few other games on the cards if everything goes well. In the meantime I’ll probably get to work on writing up a review for Danganronpa Another Episode Ultra Despair Girls since that’s the only Danganronpa game I have yet to cover so far. Either way I hope you have a safe and wonderful New Year and happy holidays.
This is BDVR writer Nathan Green signing off


ESRB: M
PEGI: 16
CERO: C
OFLC: M (Unrestricted)


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Steins;Gate 0 was played and reviewed on PlayStation Vita (also on PlayStation 4) using a digital copy of the game purchased by the reviewer.
Steins;Gate 0 is developed by 5pb, and Nitroplus, and is published by PQube Games. All rights reserved to their respective owners.
This review is my own work. You are not allowed to duplicate, reproduce or republish on any other sites under any circumstances commercial or otherwise.



Thursday, January 5, 2017

Top 5 Worst Movies of 2015

This is approximately a year late, but this at least means I've had the time to think my choices over, eh? Sorry that this has taken so long, I've been trying to find time between all my other writing and plenty of other things I've been working on over the course of the year, but generally speaking I've just been some combination of busy or tired over the course of the year and never got around to it. With record-breaking lateness, here are my top five worst movies of 2015.

Dishonorable mentions: Super Hero Taisen: Kamen Rider 3. This movie had a damn interesting premise and would have worked well as a mini-series centered more around the characters from the last Kamen Rider movie rather than introducing a whole new cast of supporting characters from previous Rider series rather than working with the Riders we know work well with Shinnosuke. Instead, we got a movie that goes by way too quickly as previous Kamen Riders fight as part of an incredibly weak premise that sounded strong at the get-go. The sequel mini-series, Kamen Rider 4 was far more interesting, yet it still had its own issues as well. If they took the two premises and combined them, then lengthened the whole thing to about twelve episodes worth of content it would have probably worked out fairly well. As it is, we got a rather interesting movie and sequel series, both of which rushed to a rather anti-climactic conclusion.
Another honorable mention would be Kung Fury. This short-film could have been something great, but it squandered its potential in the ending and the last half of the first act. Generally speaking, it's a damn fun movie, but it could do with a bit better pacing. It's not bad enough to work its way onto the worst list but not good enough to make it onto the best.
Finally, we have The Avengers: Age of Ultron. While not a bad movie by any means, it deserves a mention due to how badly they squandered most of the concepts they had. The fight-scenes were cool, and I didn't even dislike the rather strange social-interactions the team had, but it wasn't paced particularly well, it was way too short, and worst of all it squandered all of the development between Cap and Widow in The Winter Soldier and all of the development between Bruce and Betty in The Incredible Hulk. Whedon also seemed like he was sleepwalking through the direction in this film, because all of the funny writing is still here, but the comedic timing is all off from his previous works. I especially noticed this when I re-watched Firefly right afterwards. Now let's dig right into the actual list!

#5: Selma
I'll be honest, Selma wouldn't be here if it wasn't for the fact that it flies in the face of actual history that actual people who are still alive remember. I soured on this film over time even more than I was when I originally saw it. A movie about the civil-rights movement is a bad idea anyways, because it's a concept more fit for a miniseries than it is for a single two-hour movie. Also, don't make a movie about a great orator if you don't have the rights to their speeches. That'd be like making a movie about a musician without the rights to their songs. Not to mention the rather bizarre soundtrack choice with the references that make no sense. The cast is good, the pacing sucks and this film is just generally over-rated. There are worse movies, worse movies that were released in 2015 no less, but the history buff in me demanded that I put it somewhere on this list.



#4: Fant4stic
I saw this on Blu-ray before the official home-media release, and let me just say that this film was a fairly massive trainwreck for a number of reasons I went over in my review. Quick rundown; Complete and utter ignorance of modern science. Ignorance of how the world would react to the events of this movie. Ignorance of the procedures required for space-travel. General ignorance of basic things. You get my drift. This movie had potential, but between Fox's meddling and the fact that Josh Trank was trying to make Chronicle 2 originally, the final product was a boring, uninteresting mess.

#3: Smosh: The Movie
You know you're scraping the bottom of the barrel when you rip off Fred: The Movie. You know the mighty have fallen when the movie they make isn't as entertaining as watching 90 minutes of their videos would be. Smosh, I hope ya'll took a step back after this and tried to do better. You guys used to be funny, you could even be considered some of the funniest people on the web, but you guys fell hard within the course of a few years. Don't feel like saying much else about this movie, I've talked about it at length in my review. Suffice to say that it's a piece of crap not worth spending your time on.

#2: The Ridiculous 6
For everything one might have hoped this film would be from the opening sequence, it certainly didn't live up to any of it. It's an Adam Sandler movie, as one would expect. Amazing to see that they somehow managed to make it all the way through production without anyone raising a hand and saying "This is stupid, get out of here Adam and let a good writer handle this." They never once flagged that Taylor Lautner would have been a better lead than Sandler, they never once figured it'd be a good idea to cut the cast down to him, Luke Wilson and Terry Crews. Netflix, I hope you learned your lesson, because Adam Sandler certainly won't.

#1: Jupiter Ascending
If there was a bigger, more derivative piece of crap in 2015, I don't know about it. The Wachowski's failed harder than they ever did before when they made this movie. I don't think there was a single other movie in 2015 that made me quite as angry as this film. To put it bluntly, this film rips off everything under the sun and does it all badly. If you can think of anything, Jupiter Ascending ripped it off. From Twlight to Power Rangers, from Cinderella to The Matrix, from Pacific Rim to Soylent Green. This thing steals it all and does it horribly. The best part of this film is Sean Bean and Channing Tatum, but that's not saying much. If you want to know more about this horrible movie, just read my review. I've said plenty about this film already, and I can't list off everything that was wrong with it again.

That's it for now, I'll see you later with the "Best" list from 2015.
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Monday, January 2, 2017

Power Rangers Dino Charge Retrospective: Part 3

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, ladies and gentlemen, and welcome back to this deconstruction of the demoralizing dreck that comprises the contents of this juvenile junk. Power Rangers Dino Charge, everyone!
We continue this journey with "The Royal Rangers." Titled such, because Tyler and Shelby decide to impersonate the royalty of Zandar. This is where it would come in handy if they had contact with the government, or other teams of Rangers affiliated with the government. You don't need to come up with these stupid schemes when you have official support.
Or, and here's a radical idea, maybe they could... Talk to the actual Prince of Zandar and explain what's going on? It's not like he wouldn't have reason to believe them, considering there have been twenty different Power Rangers teams. Plus, they could just show him what's happening and he'd probably help them out. Especially considering Phillip's actions later in the series. What with him being the only competent team-member and the only one who's actually involved in this whole ordeal by choice.
Anyways, once Prince Phillip gets wind of this, he shuts the whole situation down. Like it would have flown in the first place, since royalty are typically celebrities, and people should know what they look like. Even being from an obscure country like Zandar, people have the internet. Not only will the public not buy it, the government of Zandar would find out quickly, and shut them down. Plus, since the villains appear to have access to the internet and to the news, they should be able to figure out that this is nothing but low-quality bait in record time. Except they don't. Because they're idiots.
The Rangers lure Fury out of hiding, but Tyler fails to kill him for fear that the figure he sees fighting to free himself from Fury is his father.
In the next episode, "Break Out," everything I predicted would happen, happens. Prince Phillip III of Zandar shows up to put a stop to their stupid antics. He gets attacked after reclaiming his kingdom's property from the nutjobs at the Museum, and the Rangers rescue him. Phillip realizes that Fury is the monster from Zandarian legend that the knight, Sir Ivan defended Prince Colin against. Lo and behold, guess who the gold energy was? Sir Ivan of Zandar, the holder of the Gold Energem. He uses his Energem to don his Ranger suit (With no explanation as to why he knows how to do that) Ivan defeats Sledge's ground forces, and then uses the Energem to free the Pterazord from Fury's control and uses it to defeat Sledge's enlarged monsters.
After the situation is wrapped up, Ivan offers the Gold Energem to Prince Phillip, as the Prince he was assigned to protect had requested he retrieve it. Phillip, being the only sane man in this whole situation, tells Ivan to keep it to fend off the aliens who are trying to tear the earth apart in search of a collection of incredibly powerful gems that could destroy the planet if misused.
The next episode is titled "Knight After Knights," and it's entirely centered around a villain by the name of Bones somehow removing the Ranger's backbones (Metaphorically) so they won't have the courage to fight. This causes Ivan to abandon them as a lost cause, and go out to recruit a posse of competent heroes to fight off Sledge. Except instead of getting a team of Rangers, he assembles a team of civilians. Not soldiers, not a Lightspeed Rescue style team of skilled professionals, random plebs. A magician, (A fake one, not the real kind like you'd expect to see in a universe with an evil witch and an entire team whose powers are based on freaking magic) a tuba player, a referee, an old woman on a scooter, and a crossing guard.
The most important person in this whole situation is the crossing guard, played by Bruce Phillips. For those of you who don't know, Bruce Phillips played Andrews, Summer's butler from Power Rangers RPM. Andrews was a great character who was important to Summer's character arc. He was well-written and a great addition to the series. Bruce Phillips did a damn good job as Andrews. Just a shame they couldn't have used him better in this series. You wanna know what happens when Ivan takes his new crew out to handle the monsters?
They flee in terror.
Now, to some extent that makes sense. They're just random people, after all, but as this series has proven, random people can prove to be the best of heroes. Andrews was a bonda-fide hero. In some other universe, he might have been a Ranger himself. I know this whole episode was about the Rangers finding courage in the face of abject terror, but this team just sucks! Back in the Disney era, or even the classic Saban era, it would have been focused on a single Ranger's issues, and resolved them without crapping all over side-characters. Unless they were Bulk and Skull.
Anyways, Shelby shows up to help Ivan, and after a motivational speech from Keeper, the rest of the team shows up as well. They get their courage back, kill Bones, and Ivan gets a burger with fries at the cafe.
In case you were wondering, this was a filler episode that did nothing but waste the audience's time.
We finally reach one of the episodes I referenced in the beginning of this series, "Sync or Swim." In this episode, in addition to the events I mentioned prior, Ivan and Tyler begin a rivalry to last all of one episode.
Compare this to Tommy and Jason's rivalry, or Theo and Casey's. The rivalry starts when the characters are introduced and lasts long enough for it to actually have an arc. To actually show the characters changing. Because who needs character development? Who needs good pacing? Who needs to have multi-part episodes where things actually happen? No, everything has to be smashed down to less episodes than they need to actually execute everything properly so we can fit in all this filler.
Long story short, they get over themselves, they lob the bomb that Sledge tried to use to destroy the museum and kill them at his ship, it barely does anything, and we never once see the Rangers go into space, with their clearly space-worthy Megazord to try and put an end to all of this. Because it's not like that would actually help. Not like they could prevent a lot of property damage and loss of life. Not like there was an incredibly popular and iconic episode dedicated to Rangers going into space and kicking ass. Not like there were two whole teams dedicated to exploring space and handling things in space! NOT LIKE THERE WAS A TEAM LITERALLY CALLED "POWER RANGERS IN SPACE." Either Lost Galaxy or In Space would have rocketed up to Sledge's ship as soon as they found out about it and wiped him from existence. Then again, there are a few other things that previous teams of Rangers would have done if Saban hadn't utterly forgotten about them. For all his talk about segregating Ranger teams to their own universes, Johnathan Tzachor did a better job acknowledging past teams than Judd Lynn has, who might I remind you, worked on In Space!
Aside from the fact that Rangers can clearly handle being in space, aside from the fact that there are other teams that probably should have handled the situation a good twenty-some years ago, or even the fact that Earth has the capability without relying on Rangers to take out Sledge, the Dino Charge Rangers had spacefaring capability before they got ahold of the Zord that was actually modeled on the freaking Space Shuttle! This means they could have ended most of the threat posed by Sledge and his crew literally as soon as they got ahold of the god-damn Pteracharge Megazord! As in about an episode ago! But hey, that's just my experience as a tactician talking, just my years of studying military strategy and military battles to their finest points to find out what went wrong where, and who did it worst. Hell, I don't even need to have studied all of that to know that they made a bad move by not bringing the battle right to Sledge when they got the chance, the simple fact that they could and didn't is a glaring narrative error.
Now, before anyone starts in about the ground-rules Zordon laid down, I would just like to point out that not only do they never once mention any of Zordon's teachings about reducing collateral damage and having a decent amount of restraint to your actions, they also violate most of his rules at some point in the series! Trust me, we'll get to that. That's gonna be a treat to see.
Back on the subject of them not taking the fight to Sledge, I would just like to point out that this level of stupidity on their part comes back to bite them in the ass a few times, both in this season and the next. In a big way. Something that goes beyond any of the mistakes any of the other Ranger teams might have made, perceived or real. If you don't already know what it is, I wish I could see your face when you find out.
Anyways, enough harping on this rather major piece of failure, let's move past it and start harping on the other major failures they have!
Actually, let's come back to "Sync or Swim" and talk about some of the dumb antics. Tyler and Ivan's rivalry becomes one of the most childish and petty things I have ever seen. Think back to previous rivalries, Theo and Casey for instance. Theo was rather naturally and justifiably skeptical of Casey's leadership qualities, since he was so inexperienced, and this attitude led to Casey being a bit irritated with Theo. Their rivalry was a perfectly natural representation of human interaction, especially as they grew out of it over the course of the series. Tommy and Jason were both take-charge kind of guys, so they would naturally butt heads. The two of them learned that neither one of them could handle every situation, and that sometimes they needed to really work together to succeed. With each of the Rangers being the equivalent to a one-man army, this is perfectly understandable. In this? The rivalry starts off with Ivan and Tyler wearing the same sweet coat, and them getting upset over this. Tyler especially when Shelby says Ivan wears it better. Shenanigans ensue. To the point that it actually lets the villains escape from them. Compare this piece of crap episode to "Gung Ho!" one of the defining episodes from Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers. Yes, they hardly ever used the Thunder Slingers in the show after that, but there was actual character development between Jason and Tommy!
Anyways, the next episode is titled "True Black," and it's another Chase-centric one.
Chase is testing out some new gear from Kendall, Dino Armor X. A pair of gator-jaws that turn him into a giant drill. They say it only works for him, but that's going to be forgotten soon.
Wrench uses a monster called Gold Digger to attack the training grounds later, and the Rangers try to stop him. Tyler, Ivan and Shelby are buried underground (They should by all rights be dead, either immediately or soon) and Chase tries to dig through Gold Digger's stone tablets with his claws, but it doesn't work. Apparently his inability to use the armor properly right now stems from his guilt over not helping Shelby get tickets to see her favorite boy-band. Neither Koda nor Reilly can use the Dino Armor X Charger themselves, so Chase has to apologize, the powers work fine and he saves the other Rangers. They finish off Gold Digger, tickets are gotten to see this pseudo-1Direction band called "The N-Zed Boys" and the Rangers get time off to go to the concert. This episode could have been cut entirely and nothing would have been lost. In fact, a future episode would make a bit more sense. Not a whole lot more sense, just a bit. There are still plenty of other unanswered questions. Dino Armor X is used a total of once, the N-Zed Boys are brought up a handful more times in the series, but their introduction could have been a lot smoother. Maybe have one of their songs playing on Tyler's car radio? Maybe have Shelby wear some of their merch earlier on in the series, or maybe use an actual band instead? They had to commission original music anyways, maybe they could have gone all-out on it and actually shown the concert they went to! Maybe they could have written something around that instead! It'd make about as much sense as some of the other things that happen in the series...
The title is absolutely meaningless, just like "Breaking Black" before it was. Back in the Disney and classic Saban eras an episode titled "Breaking Black" would have been more than just a cute little reference, they would have actually broken the Black Ranger's spirit. Maybe even killed him! Then "True Black" would have followed, and been focused on building them back up as a person. But hey, let's waste all the opportunities we've got to use titles in a way that fits thematically. Saban in this day and age would have had "Green With Evil" be all about the Green Ranger being jealous and getting a bit douchey for about an episode before everything wraps up at the end.
The next episode actually has a title that fits with the events of the episode. "Rise of a Ranger" is probably the strongest episode of the series, mainly because it focuses on my favorite character, Prince Phillip.
Phillip, rather than sit on his ass all the time and wait for those morons we call the Dino Charge Rangers to sort out the situation, he puts his influence to work figuring out a way to help. He has his people find an Energem, and when he can't figure out how to make it work, he decides to try and convince the forces that govern Ranger powers of his worth. He goes out of his way to help out the people of the world and actually make some kind of difference. As opposed to causing collateral damage, doing stupid shit, and not bothering to handle their villains properly like the rest of the Dino Charge Rangers do. Phillip practices combat training with a robot so he can partake in the beatdowns with the rest of the team, and basically does his damndest to be of some help. He decides to try and reconfigure his training robot for direct control and tries to use it to combat Sledge's forces. It doesn't work out 100% right, but his heart is in the right place.
Unfortunately, this isn't how the Rangers see it. They fail to acknowledge the previous robotic and cybernetic Rangers, and claim a robot isn't up to the task of being a Ranger.
*Deep breath* The Machine Empire, Robotic Turbo Rangers, Blue Centurion, Cyborg Lightspeed Rangers, Krybots, Mack Hartford, Dylan, Teneya 7/15, the Venjix Computer Network, Grinders, the various Attack Bots deployed by Venjix, freaking Robo-Knight. As well as any number of other robotic villains and/or allies who have kept up with Rangers in the past which I may be forgetting. Do you see the point? Do you understand the problem with this situation? I do. Yet again, another slap in the face to the legacy of the franchise. Judd Lynn not only worked on Turbo, he was rather involved with much of the Zordon era. On top of all of that, he was the second EP on Power Rangers RPM. You know, that series with the villains who were exclusively robots. Full stop, that's the premise. We don't even need to dig into Dylan and Teneya, the fact that the main villains were entirely made up of robots and killed plenty of the forces who came up against them, that alone undermines everything Shelby says right here. The fact that Overdrive was led by a cyborg, the fact that the third Turbo team was entirely made up of robots means that either Shelby is dumb or Judd Lynn is. Does Saban even have a continuity editor? A fact-checker, someone to keep the canon generally straight? If they do, did they listen to them? It's not like Judd Lynn is Michael Bay, and he was trying to make Armageddon more fun to watch. At this point, it doesn't even matter if he was the one who wrote that line, he worked on the script for this episode! He co-wrote it, he should have crossed that line out and had Kendall rather than Shelby feed Phillip a line about the clunkyness and complexity of the control-pad interfering with the efficacy of the robot. However, to run this all the way back to the robot itself. If I were a prince with wealth and influence like Phillip does, I'd create some kind of Real Steel-style control-system coupled with a VR headset and omni-directional treadmill. That way, I could control the robot, see what it sees, and control it as if I was actually there. You know, like the kind of control-system we've seen out of Megazords in the past. The Tigerzord, Jungle Pride Megazord, Samurai Megazord, hell even the Dino Charge Megazords are controlled like that. Probably a few more that I've missed, but the few examples I've shown should be more than enough to prove that the technology exists within the universe that could do exactly what I just laid out easily. Nothing else to it, this setup is idiotic.
Anyways, earlier in the episode, Fury saves Poisandra from one of Sledge's prisoners (Why hasn't this happened before and why hasn't Sledge just cashed in his prisoners to keep his girlfriend safe?) and gets back in his boss's good graces. This leads up to his attack on the Rangers. I'll get into that a bit later.
Right after Phillip's initial encounter with his Enegem, we move right into something which becomes a staple of this series. The endless masturbatory references to New Zealand! It was somewhat light earlier in the series, but this is where it all becomes a bit cringeworthy. Especially when they head off to New Zealand. As opposed to all the barely-disguised New Zealand shots they use throughout. How is it that everyone else who produces things in New Zealand, from Disney to Warner Bros. have managed to make it not look obvious that they were filming in New Zealand, but Saban can't? Or more to the point, don't care to?
Chase's little sister and a group from her school in New Zealand (Read: Just down the road IRL) perform a traditional dance in traditional Maori regalia. She wants to go skateboarding with her brother, but then Fury shows up and everything goes down as I said it did earlier.
Fury and his Vivix abscond with the robot, while Phillip tries to figure out what he needs to do to show the Energem he's a good person, and he does everything I just said he did. After none of that works, a dejected Phillip gives the Energem to the Rangers in the hopes that they can find a worthy wielder. Then Chase's sister shows up, and monsters attack. Phillip, without a thought for himself, rushes out to save her. Lo and behold, this is the catalyst the Energem needed to bond with him. They handle the situation (And the reprogrammed robot) and wrap things up. The girl Chase was dating earlier gets him a ticket so he can go home and see his family for Christmas, and Chase thanks her. Unfortunately, after he went through all that trouble to help, Phillip is called back to Zandar on royal business. Although I'd personally reckon he was having far more interesting solo-adventures fighting crime in his country. I think this because I feel like there's a more interesting story to be told here that wasn't.
Now, the next episode as far as continuity is concerned is "Ghostest With The Mostest," but it wasn't aired like that. In fact, it was aired immediately prior to "Rise of a Ranger." The production numbers actually put it as the twenty-first episode in the series. Considering it's a clip-show, and doesn't actually have any real impact on the series as a whole, it doesn't particularly need to be watched at all. There's no real enjoyment to be had, this episode (And all the holiday specials in this series) is nothing but pure filler.
Duplicon is resurrected, and between him and Memorella, Sledge now has a Ranger of his own to control. Kendall's system flags alien DNA, so instead of doing a blood-test on them, they decide to do a lie-detector test. Even if you didn't have their DNA on file, the one who doesn't submit to the test is likely the imposter.
Anyways, after a bunch of flashbacks to things nobody cares about, they flag that the fake Ranger is Koda right as the real Koda shows up. He was referring to Kendall as "Miss Morgan" instead of "Kendall" as he usually does.
There's really nothing of note in this episode aside for the fact that there was about a frame or two of Kyoryuger cockpit footage visible before they cut to the original footage. This wouldn't be noticeable if not for the fact that Saban has this rather strange fetish for introducing suit variants that the Rangers can only use in the cockpit of the Megazord. Even so, even with all of this, if it wasn't for the fact that the cockpits are so different, it probably would have been harder to notice. Back in the day, all you had to do was shoot some original fight-scenes and then the Japanese mecha footage could be used in its entirety. At least as long as the characters kept their helmets on. I suppose Saban just likes to try and sell more toys at the expense of the cockpit footage having zero continuity with the rest of the show. For the record, I think that Dino Drive was a complete waste of time, effort, plastic and money when a much cooler suit of armor would debut not too long after it did.

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