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Sunday, May 1, 2016

Avengers: Age of Ultron

I really don't want to review Age of Ultron, for a number of reasons. One being that I'd really rather talk about Ant-Man, another being that I don't want to admit that it's not nearly as good as The Avengers, and finally, because I don't like to think about Joss Whedon losing his touch finally.
Age of Ultron is by no means a bad film. Compared to Fox's offerings in 2015, it's head and shoulders above Fant4stic. No, that's not saying much (The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is good in comparison) but it's still a decent enough movie. Is it a good film on its own? Yes. Is it as good as any of the previous MCU installments? Absolutely not. It's not better than The Winter Soldier, The First Avenger, Iron Man 1, 2, or 3, The Incredible Hulk, The Avengers, Thor, Thor: The Dark World, the first season of Daredevil, or the first season of Agents of SHIELD. It's also not better than any subsequent MCU installment, Jessica Jones, the second season of Daredevil, Ant-Man... We'll have to see how it holds up in relation to Civil War, The Punisher, Luke Cage, the second season of Jessica Jones, and Doctor Strange.
Yadda yadda, spoilers inbound, you know the drill.
From a story perspective it's a great idea, sure. The problems stem from Joss Whedon's direction. Not his writing, his direction. His writing is as good as it's always been, but the timing on most of the jokes is off just enough that it makes them less funny than they should be. Compare this to Whedon's previous work, such as Firefly, Serenity, The Avengers, the first season of Agents of SHIELD Buffy The Vampire Slayer, almost anything, the timing on all of the lines is spot-on perfect, every single one of them hits a comedy bulls-eye you didn't even know existed. These days though, his direction seems like he's going through the motions of what made him great. There's a reason I didn't include the second season of Agents of SHIELD in the list of things better than Age of Ultron, because despite overall having less bad moments than the first season did (We don't get young Ward who doesn't look a damn thing like the adult actor) there are less good moments and more mediocre and bland ones. There's nothing as awesome as Nick Fury and Phil Coulson teaming up to take down a traitorous SHIELD agent, and despite having a really interesting plot, it's not exactly inspiring to watch, especially considering the massive pains they've got to go to to make sure that they let you know that this organized group of people with odd genetic mutations aren't mutants, but "Inhumans" because Marvel is too cheap to just buy the rights to the X-Men back. Not like that's their most iconic team or anything. Not like they're some of the most beloved characters in the comics or anything, not like Wolverine is one of Marvel's most iconic characters. But sure, bring in all these original characters and D-listers nobody knows or cares about, bring in all these Inhumans. Pretend we should care when any of them die.
Speaking of which, this brings me to the big addition to Age of Ultron, Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch. They're just sorta injected into the story without a lot of buildup, even if you were watching Agents of Shield up to that point. The twins were introduced in The Winter Soldier, which was more than a bit exciting. Not to say that their introduction in this film was a bad thing, and it's nice to see foreshadowing being paid off, but I was hoping they would get their own movie before they appeared in an Avengers film. In The Winter Soldier they were locked up in cages with their powers going haywire, now they're basically just roaming around the Hydra base that The Avengers are laying siege to without much explanation. They were supposed to be fighting The Avengers, but they just sorta slunk off into the distance to return later in the film.
After the opening action-sequence, the movie basically turns into Friends with superpowers for a while. They literally spend about twenty minutes of the film goofing off in Avengers Tower for a while before Ultron (Played by James freakin' Spader) shows up and starts wrecking the place. He "kills" Jarvis, and begins using Stark's Iron Man drones to take over the world. The Avengers go into hiding at Clint's house, and the twins meet up with Ultron to take their frustations out on Stark before going rogue and meeting up with The Avengers when they find out that Ultron wants to raze the planet of all living things and create a world of robots.
Stark puts Jarvis back together from the internet and they track Ultron down to where he's going to try and make his stand and they stop him, but Quicksilver dies and The Avengers go their separate ways. Tony drives off in a car while Steve begins training a secondary Avengers team to fill the holes in the main-teams lineup.
Overall, it's a fine film, but the specific details are what drag the movie down. Back in The Avengers they spent a lot of time building up the relationship between Natasha and Clint, but it wasn't exactly a romantic relationship. Then they spent literally all of The Winter Soldier building a romantic relationship between Natasha and Steve. Come Age of Ultron, out of nowhere they're acting like Natasha and Bruce have an established romantic relationship despite Bruce already having a girlfriend, and despite all the development between Natasha and Steve in the previous movie the previous freaking year! This is also despite Natasha having seen Bruce's bad side in The Avengers when he tried to kill her. Not only that, their relationship includes her taking him down from Hulk form when their mission is over. Contradicting everything we know about The Hulk from the last two films he's been in. Bruce spent all of The Incredible Hulk learning how to control his powers, and he'd basically mastered the transformation come The Avengers, being able to transform basically at will. Did they just forget or did they purposefully ignore everything from the previous films because they had a new idea for shipping in mind? Were the writers dueling over who they wanted to pair Natasha with? If so, Joss Whedon was dueling with himself since he seemed totally on-board with the Natash/Clint shipping in The Avengers.
Then there's the generally lazy tone of the film in the middle. I know that it probably had to have a softer, slower tone compared to the original so they could have some non-combat team interactions, basically allowing them to be regular human beings and goof off a bit, but it was also a bit irritating to watch. It seems like the kind of thing they should have a TV miniseries for, rather than devoting a portion of the film to it. I don't know, it's difficult to say what could have been done better when almost everything turned out alright in the end.
Personally, I would have cut the relationship between Natasha and Bruce, and brought Betty in so we could actually get more references to Hulk's storylines than we have been. Weren't we supposed to be getting another Hulk movie with The Leader in it? And what ever happened to The Abomination? I loved The Incredible Hulk, why can't we get another solo Hulk film? Because Universal owns the distribution rights? Bullshit. Disney has enough money to buy those rights back and have more than enough dough left to buy the rights to Namor, The Fantastic Four, and The X-Men back with change left over to buy about twenty more franchises! They'd make the money back on them about the time they released the first movie. I know Marvel basically lives and breathes on playing the waiting game, that's how they got the rights to Daredevil, Spider-Man, The Punisher and others back. The problem is that the longer they leave the rights in the hands of others, there's less you can do to foreshadow those characters introductions unless you decide to take a couple of years to introduce the characters, which I know they won't do, because it was only a year since The Amazing Spider-Man 2 came out before they started referencing Spidey in the MCU, and it's only been a year since they got the rights back that they're introducing him!
Then we get to the biggest problem with the film, Whedon's comedic direction is so far off that what I know would be funny jokes just fall flat. It's not just delivery, it's the editing and the pacing that makes the jokes fall flat.
The performances are excellent, especially James Spader's and Robert Downey Jr's. Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlet Johansson, Mark Ruffalo, all of them are great. The problem is the story they were forced to tell. I like the twist on the Ultron storyline they used, I like the interactions between Banner, Stark, Rogers, and the others. The problem is the sub-plot of Banner and Romanoff's relationship and the fact that the movie is about thirty minutes too short. Tony brings Jarvis back off-screen, there's not enough development between The Twins and the rest of The Avengers, and worst of all, Quicksilver dies at the end for no reason. If anyone was going to die on the team it shouldn't have been someone who was literally just introduced. This is what wrestling fans call "burying" a character. It seemed like they were setting up Hawkeye's death (which would have sucked as well, since he also hasn't had a solo movie) but pulled a fast one at the end. Apparently the original version of the movie didn't kill off Quicksilver or Hawkeye, which would have been a better ending than killing either of them.
All in all, while I was disappointed, it was still a decent film, and I can't really bring myself to hate it, partially because everything is there that makes a good movie, and it's still a good movie, even if it's not a damn good movie.
In the end, I give it a 6.8* rating, it's basically mediocre bordering on greatness. Next week should either be Ant-Man or The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask 3D, one or the other.

Image from Impawards.com

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Senran Kagura Burst

I really meant to get to this game a long time ago, when the sequel came out, but for one reason or another I never got around to it. Fortunately I now have the time, so I can finally get to it.
The Senran Kagura series is a bit of an odd duck. This game in particular isn't actually the first game in the series, even though it sort of is. You see, Senran Kagura Burst is an enhanced re-release (Basically the Game of the Year Edition) of the original game from 2011, 閃乱カグラ:少女達の真影, or romanized, Senran Kagura: Shoujo-tachi no Shinei. Wikipedia says this means "Skirting Shadows" but considering that not a single word in that subtitle means "skirting" or "shadows", and that they didn't include the obvious "girl" in the translation, I'm going with the Google Translate and Kagura Wiki version, Portrait of Girls.
This version of the game was never released outside of Japan except as part of Burst.
Senran Kagura Burst includes everything the original version of the game had as well as an additional secondary storyline, more playable characters, more stages, more 3D features, different transformation animations, and an additional library of music, glossary terms, and character accessories.
The actual game itself is a cross between a sidescrolling-3D beat-em-up and an incredibly linear visual novel. You know how in most visual novels you've at least got choices as to what to say? Well this game just forces you to sit and wait while you sort through the walls of text between gameplay sections. This is alright if the story presented is compelling, but even then, this is an action-based game. A sidescrolling beat-em-up, no less, not an RPG. I didn't come to this game to have to sit through a novels worth of text in a bunch of long, unplayable cutscenes.
Speaking of which, this isn't the only kind of cutscene in the game. These kinds of cutscenes irritate me, since they're incredibly lazy, as well as a relatively recent development. You didn't see this kind of thing in games back on the SNES or the Nintendo 64, so why are they around on a system that can handle freaking Snake Eater? It's not a technical thing, so it must have been a cost-cutting measure. It is of course, easier to cycle through stock animations than to mess with moving the camera around a dynamic cutscene with hundreds of unique animations that might be used only once ever. The weird thing is that they use pre-rendered backgrounds for almost all of the cutscenes despite having 3D environments for practically every area in the game.
There are a very small amount of dynamically animated cutscenes, and they all basically do the same thing. They're also in the secondary Hebijo storyline, not the primary Hanzo one, so it's not like they're that important.
This brings me to the issue with the two storylines. This game has the same problem that Sonic Adventure had in that the two storylines directly contradict each other at multiple points. The difference is that the two don't mesh easily to form a coherent whole, since both of them seem to be taking place in their own version of the world presented to us at the very start. I'm not entirely certain which of them is supposed to be canon to the rest of the series, but since the Hanzo storyline was the original, I presume that's the one.
Before we start digging into the plot any further, let's tackle the gameplay and controls.
Senran Kagura Burst is a three-dimensional side-scrolling beat-em-up. You can use the joystick or the D-pad to move your character around. You use the B button to jump, the Y button for a weak but fast attack, the X button for a strong but slow attack. The R button causes an explosion that blasts enemies away from you, but takes away part of your life energy, and the L button transforms your character from their base form into their Shinobi form when the Ninja Art meter is full. While in Shinobi form (Which for most characters looks nothing like actual or stereotypical Ninjas) you can use other Ninja Arts by pressing L and another button when the meter is filled. Pressing L and Y while on the ground uses one bar of Ninja Energy and activates your characters special attack. Pressing the same combination in the air activates your characters aerial special, also using one bar of energy. Pressing L and X while on the ground (And not in the air at all) uses two bars of energy, and activates the ultimate attack, which for some characters isn't as useful as their aerial or special attack.
Then there's the A button, which easily has the most use in the game. Under most circumstances you use the A button to dash around. Tapping it causes you to dash into enemies and damage them. Holding it makes you run very quickly. Why the run function couldn't have been mapped to the joystick and not the A button, I don't know. For some reason there's very little (if any) analog control in this game, and you pretty much move at a steady pace when you hold the joystick in any position. I didn't think we needed a run button in this day and age, especially since analog joysticks have been standard on consoles since the nineties.
The A button is also useful in combo attacks, which brings up the biggest issue with the controls. If you hit an enemy or group of enemies with the right combo, they will fly up into the air in something they call an "Aerial Rave," with a green circle surrounding them. You can chase the circle by pressing the A button, launching yourself into the air while your enemies are helpless, allowing you to get in a load of hits at once. The problem is that this can also happen when your enemies are out of health, since they don't actually disappear until they hit the ground. This can be rather irritating when you're trying to run after another enemy on the other side of the screen and you wind up in the air chasing after a dead body. Why the bodies don't just disappear when they hit zero health is beyond me. Especially when they actually do when you're in the last of the main Hebijo stages.
Going back to the R button, under what circumstances do you think a quick explosion that knocks enemies back would be useful in? Well, naturally when you're surrounded by them. The problem is that you can't activate any special abilities, or even do much of anything while you're being hit, which can lead to you getting pinned between two mobs of enemies and losing most of your health before you can try and jump out of their range. You also can't activate a Limit-Break when you're lying on the ground or in the air. Plus, if you've just been hit and haven't pressed B to recover, you can't activate an aerial attack. This rather odd control restriction has led to a number of otherwise avoidable deaths. There's also the issue of not being able to recover from some attacks easily without taking a crapload of damage. The controls are responsive most of the time, but when faced with a huge mob they get a bit inadequate. If they tightened the controls up and removed a few of the stranger conditional restrictions, it'd be a much better game.
Something that I found pretty odd is the fact that you don't use the A button to retry a mission when you've failed to complete it, you use the X button. The B button works to exit the level just fine, but I would prefer to see the A button being the one you use to continue, since most games use A for accept and B for cancel, or whatever. This isn't PlayStation, we don't switch between two buttons for confirmation and four buttons for cancellation.
There's also no support for the Circle Pad Pro, which might have alleviated a few of the control issues, such as the A button issue. With the two additional buttons the controls could be spread out a bit more, and there would be less incredibly irritating overlaps.
For instance, Mirai, one of the Hebijo girls has the irritating tendency to activate her shield when you're trying to finish a combo, which causes her to stop where she is and freeze in place for a few seconds, which leaves her open to attacks from behind. (I'd just like to mention that most enemies can use a shield, but Mirai is the only player character who can to my knowledge) If the shield function was mapped to one of the trigger buttons instead of one of the attack buttons, I wouldn't be so hesitant to play as Mirai when trying to clear out optional missions.
Some of the control issues I've mentioned would be easily fixed by just reconfiguring the controls in the settings menu, swapping some functions around and leaving a couple of them out entirely. But no.
Look at this settings menu. This is it. No control options, no sensitivity settings for the analog stick, nothing. The only options are to adjust the audio. Nothing about removing clothing damage animations, or transformations, or special attack animations.
This might not sound like a huge issue, but it becomes one later on in the game. If you know anything about this game, you know that it's got clothing damage in it. When that happens, the combat just stops and the camera cuts to whoever's clothing is being shredded. This isn't too bad at first, but eventually it starts getting on your nerves and you want to turn it off. It's like the battle animations in Fire Emblem: Awakening, they're pretty cool at first, but after about thirty hours they start to get kind of old. I know that they're part of the point of the game, but once the titillation factor wears off (Which if you're particularly jaded is fairly quick) they're just irritating.
This brings me to an issue with the clothing damage. It literally just stops at a certain point once your characters clothing meter has been depleted by damage, which I presume is because they didn't want the game to get an AO rating. It still brings up the issue of inconsistency, since the characters undergarments don't seem to be destructible, which begs the question, why don't they just make Shinobi gear out of whatever the bathing-suits/other undergarments are made of? Although a better question would be "Why do the elite Ninja students of the two biggest organizations in the world wear sweaters, skirts, maid outfits, and school uniforms in the field?" I'm not a member of an international organization of ninjas and I own better ninja gear than they do.
Mostly because I have some clothing that isn't brightly colored, or the kind of thing that you could easily get your legs caught up in when you're trying to crawl.
Then again, this is the kind of game where the player-characters can summon massive machine guns from beneath their dresses, wield huge buster-swords and shoot energy from parasols, so the baseline for realism is set fairly low. I'm not complaining about the awesome weapons or the cool attacks, or the supernatural awesome stuff that happens, all that's fine. It'd just be nice if the so-called Shinobi actually dressed like Shinobi, or at the very least military stealth-operatives. Then again, without fanservice, the game might not have been as successful.
It's not like the plot is anything special. While it's fairly compelling at the best of times, at the worst it's a bit of a chore to wade through. It's far above, say, Lord of Magna in terms of plot (for both storylines) since the antagonists actually show up and make themselves your problem on a regular basis, and the characters actually have enough personality to go around, and interact enough to actually make you care when everything comes to a head at the end of the game.
In terms of fanservice ensembles, we're not exactly operating at Rosario + Vampire levels of compelling characterization, but I've honestly seen worse. Most of the characters appear to be archetypes, but they're at least fleshed-out enough that they're a bit more than just stock characters hanging around. We also don't have a personality-free main character hanging around taking up space, so that's good. The closest they get is Asuka in the Hanzo storyline, and even she's got stronger characterization than the guy from Lord of Magna.
I suppose this brings us to the plot. There are two ninja schools in Japan. Hanzo, the "good" ones run by a load of elitist douches, and Hebijo, the "evil" one run by cartoonishly evil faceless politicians who are trying to summon up an eldritch abomination akin to Dai Shi's final form from Power Rangers Jungle Fury. Along the way, the two schools clash multiple times, but they ultimately wind up teaming up to take down the monster. They learn that they're more alike than they think, and despite being given opposite ends of the stick, they become friends and the Hebijo team goes rogue to avoid having to clash with Hanzo in the future, and because they'd killed their corporate overlords who were using them to summon the Orochi monster. This appears to be Yamata no Orochi, the eight-headed dragon from Japanese folklore. I suppose in this context Asuka is Susanoo.
Like I said, the plot isn't exactly complex, but I appreciate the simplicity at times. If I was trying to unravel intricate double-crosses and complex plot threads I might not appreciate the massive amounts of text in the visual novel sections.
Now we come to the art. There's two different kinds of art, the 3D models most of the game is presented in, and the still images that most of the visual novel sections are made up of. The 3D animation is fine for the most part, but every now and again the jiggle-animation on the breasts of the Hebijo girls starts going seriously haywire. Sometimes they expand and contract with their breathing, occasionally they flop around, jiggle and bounce when nobody is moving, and sometimes they wind up flying in the air for not much reason. Then we get to the 2D art. It's good for the most part, but every now and again there's something really weird going on. For instance, the above screenshot has a mixture of good art and bad art.
Take a look at Haruka's face on the right, and her breasts, then take a look at her 3D model. Her face isn't nearly that wide, and her breasts are both not that big and not nearly that saggy. In fact, nobody has saggy breasts in this game, so I don't know why they were that floppy in that one shot. There's also the issue of the cloth going down way too far on her stomach. Haruka seems generally off-model in quite a few of the Hebijo-exclusive 2D cutscenes, but the biggest case of this is in the screenshot above.
For that matter, there are quite a few issues with the Hebijo cutscenes. Take a look at the below screenshot.
 At one point in the game all of the girls go to a spa and take a steam-bath naked. Obviously this is all for fanservice purposes as anyone who knows anything about fanservice could tell you, but there are some strange things going on with the art.Take a real close look at Haruka's breasts in this picture. Notice how her left breast doesn't have a nipple. Yes, her breasts are rather round on her model, but human-beings tend to have nipples on their chests. Unless Haruka has some odd condition or her breasts are formed in such a way that her nipples wouldn't be seen from this angle, it seems like the artist forgot to cover that breast with steam from the back.
 Then we pan over to the center of the image, where we see Homura and Yomi. Homura (left) is sitting far enough below the water that her breasts are obscured by distortion and reflection. Yomi, however, is sitting above the water, and her breasts are mostly covered by a cloud of steam from the bath. I say "mostly" because her left breast is shorter than her right breast. Yes, humans are naturally a little bit asymmetrical, but they're not supposed to be that lopsided. You can also see that her left breast ends above the cloud of steam. This shows us that she also doesn't have a nipple on her left breast, which as before, I presume must be an art issue.
Now take a look at this image, where Haruka appears to have a nipple on her left breast, but not on her right, although that could just be the perspective at work. It's just a really weird thing to see them go from no nipples to nipples. It sort of makes me wonder what kind of artist they were working with on the Hebijo storyline, since there was never anything quite this inconsistent in the Hanzo half of the game.
Wrapping up the art issues with the game, we now move into analyzing the game from a technical standpoint.
If you talk to a character inside the Ninja Room from behind, they don't turn around to face you for some reason. Final Fantasy VII managed to get this kinda thing down pat back in the mid-nineties, and one of the first things that I learned to do when I was studying game development. It's not particularly hard to make an NPC face the player when the player talks to them.
This game shares a few issues with another Marvelous developed game I've reviewed, namely the bizarre frame-rate and clipping issues from Story of Seasons. While you're inside the Ninja Room, where you find most of your options in the game, the frame-rate dips to something around fifteen to twenty frames-per-second at best. Then, occasionally during combat missions the framerate jumps up to thirty to forty. Not all the time, not in all the missions, but often enough that it's noticeable.
This is more of a gameplay design issue than a technical one, but there's enough overlap that I feel it fits. Since this is a 3D Beat-Em-Up, enemies can spread out across the screen, and the sidescrolling perspective makes it a bit difficult to tell whether you're in range of them or not. Sometimes you'll be hitting enemies across the room you don't think should hit, and other times (Especially against bosses) you'll be right next to them and none of your attacks will hit. Since this game doesn't have any 3D features during gameplay, you can't even rectify this issue by turning the 3D on. There's also the problem of only being able to attack left and right from the cameras perspective, which is especially irritating when you're trying to destroy a crate with an item in it, or if you're trying to attack an enemy that's right next to you. This is what leads me to say the following: This game would have benefited from a Devil May Cry 3 style control scheme, something which allowed for more freedom of movement and attacks, and this would have cleared up a lot of issues with the combat-system. Dante isn't about to get dogpiled by a group of enemies in any of his games, you know. He's always able to recover as long as you know how to use the controls. I want to know that I died because I either wasn't paying attention, or because I dodged right into my enemies attack, not because the controls are poorly programmed.
Every now and again, be it in the Ninja Room or out on a mission, my character would get stuck on a bit of the scenery, and I would have to jump to get out of it. In the Ninja Room however, most controls are disabled, so the one time that happened, I was able to get out of it by going to the Home Menu and then returning to the game. Sometimes there would just be an invisible wall in the middle of the stage that probably shouldn't have been there, just like the kind of thing that happened in Story of Seasons. There are also invisible walls on top of fences and walls in multi-layered stages, which mean that despite being about to jump about twelve feet in the air, your characters are still forced to use the stairs, which increases the amount of time between your combos, which ultimately reduces the amount of experience you get when you finish the level.
I also noticed a few times when enemies would float in the air and stay there until you killed them. There were other things that I unfortunately wasn't able to screencap, such as the time when a group of enemies all died and just stood there for a few seconds until they keeled over, or when I was attacked by an invisible ninja, although that last one could have just been an actual enemy in the game considering the fact that we're dealing with, you know, ninjas in this game.
Now we come to balance issues. The enemy AI seems to switch back and forth between aggressive and cunning to dumb as bricks without much transition or middle-ground. Sometimes enemies will just stand there on the other side of the screen and not attack you unless you come too close, or they'll dart around the screen without attacking you for a while before noticing you're there. Other times they will literally dogpile you to the point of making it nearly impossible to get loose and get a few good hits in on them without taking loads of damage and possibly getting killed within a few seconds. Occasionally there's a middle-ground where the enemies are aggressive as all hell, but not numerous enough to utterly overwhelm you. That's where you've got plenty of challenge to make things worthwhile, while not being overwhelming. If the rest of the game was more like those stages are, then the gameplay would be significantly more engaging, since there would be decent stakes in every combat encounter.
The enemies also don't seem to be able to avoid your special attacks despite the fact that the player can avoid enemy special attacks. Some enemies also don't seem to be able to grasp the fact that they probably shouldn't walk into your special attacks if they're not currently stuck inside them, especially Homura's ultimate attack. This also brings me to an issue with Homura's regular ultimate attack. While she's in her normal mode, she spins her six swords in a flurry of blades. The thing is that unless the enemy is currently lying on the ground the momentum on the hits will fling them out of the range of the attack. She also doesn't do nearly as much damage with her ultimate attack as some of the other girls attacks do. It's still useful, but it's not as good as her aerial attack, especially when attacking a single powerful opponent.
Despite the fact that my characters in Hebijo were significantly under-leveled compared to the Hanzo characters, and despite the game saying that Hebijo was for more experienced players, I found the Hebijo levels, especially the later ones significantly easier than Hanzo ones. This is taking into account the fact that most of the Hebijo characters appear to play a lot slower than their Hanzo counterparts, and the fact that Hebijo seems to throw large groups of huge enemies at you, even in optional missions. Part of the reason it's easier is because the Hebijo girls seem to have significantly more powerful special, aerial, and ultimate attacks, as well as getting certain powerful techniques at lower levels, despite having less experience growth.
It was also easier to beat Hebijo's ultimate Shinobi than Hanzo's, despite it being incredibly difficult to beat her in the Hanzo branch. Every now and again I'd run into an optional mission with a low time limit that I'd wind up skipping, but overall, even after I'd cleared both halves of the game Hebijo was still easier than Hanzo.
This brings me to the final bosses. In Hanzo, you fight the eight-headed snake Orochi, which can wreck you easily if you don't make extensive use of the dash, or otherwise don't know his weakness. In Hebijo, you just fight the other Elite Students with a powered-up Homura, who at this point has got a more useful Ultimate Attack. It's not particularly difficult, especially because at this point in time you've already fought the Hebijo girls at least three times each if you're just going by mandatory missions and not replaying them, plus the AI is as I mentioned before, dumb as bricks for one on one competition. I suppose that's part of the reason why the game usually spawns a mob of enemies to attack you even in what are deemed by the story to be one-one encounters.
Last, but certainly not least on our list of glitches is the time when the screen turned white in the middle of a fight when I tried to take a screenshot with Miiverse. I still completed the level, and the white screen went away at the end of the level after I hit the home button and took a screenshot of it, and it never came up again, but this was the glitch that stuck out the most to me, and for good reason. Visibility is key in a video-game. The good thing is that no matter how many screenshots I took, no matter what I interrupted with the Home button, this never happened again. I don't know what caused it and I don't know how it stopped, at least from a technical standpoint, but the important thing is that whatever it was was a rare occurrence.
There's been a lot of hubbub about accurate translations as of late, and while XSeed typically has a good track-record for decent translation, this game tends to outright make up the English translations for certain words, evidenced by the fact that the Japanese voice-track has been left 100% intact from the Japanese version of the game.
For instance, to the left you can see a character saying something incredibly ludicrous in English, while in Japanese she said "Itadakimasu" which translates to "I humbly receive" or in plain English, thank you, typically said before eating. The translators decided that this rather strange rhyming joke was a good thing to insert into the game, despite it making no sense, and not being something anyone actually says.
Then there's one of the mission names. It's the one in the middle of the screen that's selected. I don't have access to the Japanese mission-list, and the Senran Kagura wiki isn't giving me any help on this front, but something tells me that this isn't anything close to the original title of the mission. Call it speculation, call it the intuition of a guy who picks up on things other people tend to not care about, but I'd bet that it said something significantly different in the original Japanese version.
Now that we're done with talking about everything from the significant issues to the more minor ones, let's take a few minutes to delve into a bit of otherwise pointless nitpicking, shall we?
Why the hell does Asuka wear her swords with her to the beach? There's water and sand galore at the beach, which will get into the scabbards, dull, scratch and rust the blades, screw with the wrapping, and if the hilts are made of wood, warp and or rot them. I know they're her primary weapons, but the other girls are able to summon their gear from the ether, so why does Asuka have to carry hero swords with her to the beach? For that matter, why didn't anyone object to her carrying a pair of deadly weapons with her on the train here, or on the way to the beach?
At one point int he game, Yomi from Hebijo and Ikaruga from Hanzo are taking part in an eating contest, and they are forced to eat endless bowls of live gigantic earthworms, pictured to the left.
Why are they pixelated? Why do they have to eat them live? Doesn't that violate health standards in several countries? Why, if the contest had allocated all the noodles in the area, do they only have earthworms? Why do they have endless earthworms? Why in the hell are they pixelated?! If they're supposed to be earthworms, then there's no reason to pixelate them. Unless of course, the artist didn't know how to draw them.
Why does a clandestine organization involved in illegal dealings have internet forums? Even if they have adequate security, if they're ever caught, then they've got loads of digital evidence for the authorities if they're ever caught! If the forums aren't accessible from the internet, and only from the Hebijo grounds, then what's the point of having a forum? It seems like you could accomplish the same thing with "mingle time" on the grounds, where the students get together and talk about... Whatever Ninjas in training talk about. Maybe they're there for alumni to give tips to students. Who knows.
There's this one thing where meta-references start to get a bit annoying. Especially when they're bolded out specifically so you'll notice them.
I never use the 3D features on the 3DS in regular gameplay, and since this game doesn't actually have 3D features outside of the fanservice bits, I didn't feel particularly bad about leaving it turned off. Maybe if they had 3D features in the rest of the game it'd make it easier to tell where your enemies are in relation to your character.
There's also the fact that the game put me through the tutorial level in the Hebijo branch after I'd already cleared and saved my Hanzo clear data.
Honestly though, all of this takes a back seat to whether the game is fun or not, and it is fun. If you're not bothered by loads of text in between story-missions, and can manage to ignore the rather bizarre frame-rate fluctuations (Fifteen FPS indoors, might I remind you) then there's a rather fun beat-em-up to be had. However! A thirty-dollar price-tag is a bit much for a game as unpolished as this one is. Despite being an enhanced re-release, there are still a host of technical and art issues, the kind of which I would have sent back for a second draft, especially before an international release. Isn't the international version of a game supposed to squash the bugs, balance issues and technical problems present in the domestic version?
All in all, taking everything into account, my fun outweighed my frustration, but even being fun doesn't excuse some of the more egregious issues I encountered. In the end, I give Senran Kagura Burst a 6.2* rating.
I wound up deciding to take a week off and just play the game to completion rather than trying to rush through the story missions, plus I had already spent most of Friday and Saturday doing other things, and there's the fact that my birthday was coming up and I didn't want to stress myself out over it if I didn't have to. Next week I'm either gonna try and get through Deep Crimson or possibly one of the other games I've got in for review. In the event that falls through I'll probably just get around to publishing one of my best/worst lists of 2015. I'll see you then! For now, as of time of writing, I'm off to bed!

Cover from thecoverproject.net, screenshots taken by me.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Stranger of Sword City

I like to consider myself a jack of all trades as a gamer. I will willingly give all game genres a shot and usually enjoy them (with a few exceptions such as sports games and RTS games).
Despite this there are still a few genres that I haven't even dabbled in at all for one reason for another and the DRPG genre was one of these. I'd heard of it but had never really touched a game in the genre before, until now that is.

Going into Stranger of Sword City (which I will abbreviate as SoSC from now on) I really had no idea what to expect having not played a DRPG before. Non the less I took the plunge and I am certainly glad that I did. So without further ado here is my review of Stranger of Sword City for the Playstation Vita.

Now before I get into the nitty gritty review stuff I just wanted to bring attention to this games… interesting release history.
SoSC was originally released in Japan on the Xbox 360 in 2014. Yes, a Japanese exclusive 360 game. Originally it was released exclusively on the 360 but then got a PC port later on which was again only released in Japan.
Why is this relevant? Well, the 360 was never a top performing console when it came to sales in Japan so having a Japanese only game released on the 360 exclusively is quite unusual.
Now around a year later the game got rereleased on the PlayStation Vita in Japan and then another year after that this version of the game got ported as a digital download title to the Xbox One of all systems.
This means that SoSC has come out on the interesting platform combo of 360, One and Playstation Vita, which for a Japanese game is quite odd.

The version that I will be looking at for this review is the Playstation Vita version which was published by NISA. The Xbox One version of the game is largely identical from what I've heard, although it was self pubished by Experience Inc. I was going to take a quick look at the Xbox One version of the game for the purposes of a comparison but that isn't quite out in New Zealand yet so I'll update this review with a comparison when it has come out.

Anyway with that out of the way lets move onto the story.

You play as a self insert silent protagonest who is the only survivor of a plane crash. When you wake up you find yourself in the fantasy land of Escaro. From there you learn that in Escaro you are considered a stranger, and as a stranger it is your job to hunt down special monsters known as Liniage types and collect their blood crystal (which is a sort of life source) to keep the peace in Escaro.

The plot is…. Well I'll admit it doesn't seem to be the games' strongest point.
While the game spends around an hour at the start fleshing out the characters a bit, the plot quickly takes a back seat from there in favour of the gameplay. While that isn't technically a bad thing it does mean that the plot does progress at a rather slow pace for reasons I will get into later.
SoSC isn't really a game you play for the plot anyway, it is there and the concept is certainly interesting, so I'll give it that. It's just paced really slowly.

Oh boy this section is going to be LONG.
Before I dive into the games' mechanics, let's just clear up what a DRPG game actually is for those not in the know.
DRPG's stand for Dungeon Crawler RPG. Most of the time the games are played from a first person perspective and involve… well crawling through dungeons, fighting monsters, character building, sometimes permadeath and insane amounts of grinding.

With that out of the way, SoSC is not for the faint of heart especially if you have trouble with games with loads of systems and mechanics.
SoSC does not hold your hand, it basically shoves you right off the deep end and won't force tutorials upon you unless it absolutely has to. However, at the same time the game does provide info for newer players in the form of a guide that can be accessed at any time by pushing the Select Button.
I like this feature a lot. As a person who has never played a DRPG before, this guide certainly made learning the many mechanics and systems in the game far FAR easier.
Speaking of the mechanics and systems, there are a lot of them. Like… tons of them.
You've got skill trees, weaknesses and strengths, weapon balance, permadeath, alignment, positioning, the list goes on. There is a lot to learn in SoSC, which I could see putting off players new to the genre, something which I completely understand myself.
However, the reward for learning these mechanics is you get an incredibly engaging game with a lot of strategy, planning and thought involved in everything from battles to character creation. SoSC is one of those games which will have you spending quite a while in the character creator but unlike other games it isn't because you are spending hours making your character look just right, it's instead spent weighing out what class to go with, how to allocate your points, what age to make your character and lots of rerolling of the RNG die to get the highest number of bonus points possible. Yes, even age plays a part in how your character performs out in the field.
This is why I find SoSC so rewarding. Learning these mechanics is a long process but the payoff leaves you feeling very satisfied and pleased with yourself. I like that.

The other layer of the gameplay is the actual dungeon crawling bit. This is a pretty standard affair and should be familiar to most who have played a DRPG before. You control your character from a first person perspective and use the dpad to move him or her around. Unlike a lot of DRPG's though, most enemies appear on the overworld instead of the encounters being random (although random encounters are still present they are nowhere near as common of an occurrence as in other DRPG's).
One unique feature is the ability to hide in certain places on the map and ambush enemies. These enemies will usually be carrying treasure chests which contain weapons, armor or other items. To make sure you receive these items you have to succeed in killing the leader of the pack of enemies you ambushed. Sometimes after getting a chest you'll have to disarm a trap as well, usually the game will give you good hints as to what the trap will probably be but there are some cases where you just have to guess and hope for the best. Again, this mechanic of hiding is something I quite enjoy although it does result in a lot of back and forward.

Battles also take place from a first person view. Depending on your character and their position, you will be given a variety of options which can be performed. Once you've selected all the options you want, the battle plays out all at once.
One main gameplay concept is rows. Often when you run into a pack of enemies they will be arranged in rows with a max of three per row. Depending on what type of attacks you're using (magic or physical), the characters possition (I.E front or back row) and the type of weapon you are using you will be able to hit enemies in specific rows.
Most of the time front row people will only be able to attack the first row of enemies unless they have a long or ranged weapon. Back row people won't be able to use physical attacks at all unless they have a long or ranged weapon. On the flipside however, magic attacks can hit any enemy in any row regardless of where the user is placed in the party, which means it is usually a good idea to place magic users in the back row and the physical tanks in the front.
Back row people also get attacked less so it's usually a good idea to place all the physical tanks in the front row and the support and offensive magic users in the back row.

The battle system is surprisingly strategic in this way, because it makes you think about the pros and cons of where you place party members, what weapons you give what member and which characters you create. SoSC is one of the only RPG's I've played where I've thought to myself “Y know, maybe giving everyone super powerful weapons isn't the best idea”.
Different weapons also have the ability to hit a different number of times, with a max damage cap for each hit so sometimes it may be better off equiping a weapon that does 20 damage per hit but hits twice rather than a weapon that does 45 damage but only hits once.
SoSC is a game that makes the player really plan and think about their loadout and the pros and cons of different equips. For example, all characters have the ability to equip a second weapon in their non dominant hand, but this weapon usually will have lower accuracy and can also leave a penalty of lowered damage to the weapon in the dominant hand as well. On the flip side it's a chance to deal more hits and sometimes more damage. It's little things like this which really made me think and plan my party in SoSC and I found it very enjoyable.

Like other RPG's, when you finish battles you gain experience points. Unlike other RPGs, however when you gain enough experience points to level up you don't level up automatically. You have to manually go into the character menu and select level up. It took me a little while to get the hang of this mechanic, but once I did I didn't find it too annoying.
What is important though is to always make sure you check your fighters who are NOT in your party when you exit a dungeon as surprisingly they also gain experience even though they are not in your party. However like your party members they manually level up so you need to remember to check and make sure all of them have been leveled up if possible otherwise they won't gain any extra experience while you are out and about.

On the subject of characters lets have a quick look at the permadeath system.
All characters in SoSC have a certain number of LP, or life points. These life points show how many times your party member can die before they are gone forever. A characters age actually determines how many life points the character will have with older characters having less LP and younger characters having more.
When a character falls they have to recover back at the base. This takes time though, despite revival actually being free. So while your character is recovering you go out and continue your questing to make time pass. When a character is revived you can put them right back into your party, but they will have still lost LP. If you don't want to lose the character for good then you can again rest them to recover LP. This takes… quite a lot of in game time to be honest, but it's worth the wait if your character is one who you really don't want to lose.
You can buy revival items for use in the field but they are rather expensive and like all items in the game are in limited supply so use them wisely.
Finally, we have the Divinity system. Think of it like a special form of magic that only the main character can use. As you proceed through the in game skill tree you will earn divinities which allow you to do such things as escape all battles (except things like boss fights), heal the whole party, perform attacks which deal large amounts of damage and other stuff.
Divinity moves use up divinity points which are gained by fighting in battles and proceeding through the dungeon. Personally I really like the divinity system as it provides some useful little moves which can really help out in a pinch.

Phew that was a long section. Like I said, SoSC is a very meaty game with a lot to get your head around which is why this section was so long. Still with me? Good. Let's move onto the presentation then.

SoSC is in a word, pretty. The art is stunning and incredibly detailed and character and enemy designs are very well done (although I have heard that some of the enemies have been recycled from Dungeon Travelers 2).
One thing that is interesting is the game has two different art styles that you can pick from, the second art style being more light and fluffy while the first one is a little more dark and gritty. Given the setting of the game I used the first art style as I felt it fit with the setting way better than the second art style, which felt a little out of place in my opinion.
Graphically the game, while certainly not pushing the Vita to its limits, looks really nice. Environments are nicely designed and quite a few of them really pop and make for quite a pretty looking game which looks excellent on the Playstation Vita's OLED screen (For the record I'm using a Playstation Vita 1000). To top it off the game also runs at a silky smooth 60FPS the entire time and it makes everything that little bit better.

Musically the game sports an excellent soundtrack with some lovely orcestral pieces which really fit the mood and setting. You have some more mellow tracks, some more upbeat tracks for boss fights and enemy encounters and some eerie tracks for some dungeons.
The vocals sound really nice too, although you are given the option to turn them off if you don't like them which I think is a nice touch.

Now, I don't normally do this but I'd like to touch on the sound design for a second because I feel this is an area that SoSC really excells in.
The sound design in SoSC really blew me away, especially in the dungeons. When all you can hear is the background ambiance you can really appreciate how good it is. The calling of distant birds, the bustling of a village, the chirping of crickets, it's all there and it blends together incredibly well in SoSC and really makes the dungeons that little bit better. I really like games that do a lot of work with the sound design so SoSC really impressed me with it.
Voice acting is also really good too. Most of the game is voice acted, and while I can't understand Japanese the voices do sound pretty darn good.

Before I get onto my conclusion I just have a few minor nitpicks I wanted to point out. Firstly, this game is very, VERY grindy. It took me around six hours to unlock the first set of dungeons grindy. Now I know this is a trait of DRPGs but that doesn't make it any less of a chore to continuely go back and forward hunting out battles just so you can beat the next boss. I only make this a minor nitpick though as the games battle system is enjoyable enough that it makes me forget about the constant grinding for the most part.

The bar for entry is also quite high. Like I said before this game will not hold your hand and I wouldn't really recommend it to people who are brand new to DRPG's. The game is still excellent and I would highly recommend it to people who have had experience with DRPG's before but it isn't the best DRPG game for people completely new to the genre.

The difficulty might turn some off as well, as this game is quite tough even on easy mode. In fact, easy mode has points where you can be massively outleveled by certain enemies due to a lower encounter rate and enemies on the field so I would highly recommend you play on normal anyway.

Despite those complaints I still thoroughly enjoyed my time with SoSC. It's a game with a lot of polish and thought in the mechanics and is a great game for those who love games which are real timesinks. The game also has multiple endings which adds replay value to an already jam packed game.

So would I recommend Stranger of Sword City?
Heck yes. Like I said above I wouldn't recommend it to newbies of the genre but I totally recommend this game to people who have played DRPG's before and are looking for another excellent timesink.

Stranger of Sword City gets a highly recommended.

This is probably one of the longest reviews I have ever written so if you are still here after all of that then give yourself a pat on the back. Either way I hope you enjoyed the review as much as I enjoyed playing the game.

BDVR Guest Author Nathan Green signing off

PEGI: 16



OFLC: M (Unrestricted)

Stranger of Sword City game provided for review by NIS America. Screenshots provided by NIS America. Cover from nisamerica.com

Jessica Jones: Season One

I wanted to watch Jessica Jones mostly because David Tennant was in it. Same reason I watched Broadchurh or Gracepoint. The fact that it's a part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe was just a bonus.
I've been a fan of Marvel Comics for a very long time, but Jessica Jones wasn't a character I was particularly familiar with back when I was still reading comics. I knew a bit about her husband, Luke Cage, and her (MCU) best friend, Trish Walker, but I didn't know much about her. After watching the first season, I might have to go back and learn more about the character.
The show has a pretty interesting setup. The titular character is a super-powered Private Investigator with a mysterious past and an obvious drinking problem. Spoilers inbound.
The season begins with Jessica taking a job from the Schlotmans' who are looking for their daughter, Hope. Throughout the course of her investigation, Jessica discovers that the man who kidnapped Hope is the same one who had kidnapped her in the past. A man named Kilgrave (Played by David Tennant) with the power to control peoples actions. She wants to flee town, but she winds up rescuing Hope and bringing her back to her parents. Unfortunately, the girl still has orders, and she kills her parents.
Jessica's next order of business is to try to prove that the girl was under mind-control when she killed her parents.
This brings me to a massive plot-hole I overlooked while I was watching the series. Nobody believes that Kilgrave can mind control people even though Loki mind-controlled loads of people in The Avengers. We live in the age of the internet, there would have been pictures and video, and stories about that plastered on the internet within seconds. Literally seconds. If people didn't believe the first claims of Loki mind-controlling people, by the time the hundredth, or the thousandth story came out, even if the government didn't comment on it, there wouldn't be many people who thought it was fake, especially after a big green man, a dude in powered armor, a literal Norse God, a walking flag with a shield and a pair of gimmick soldiers fought off an alien invasion coming through a freaking wormhole above New York City. And you know something? That's not even half of what's happened in the past four years. A building disappeared, an army of robotic men dropped a city in Europe, SHIELD was disbanded, helicarriers crashed around the world, Tony Stark's house was destroyed by an army of terrorists, people were literally blowing up all over the world, a man with a silver arm rampaged through a city blowing up cars, Inhumans and mutants have been popping up left and right around the world, and a man in a devil suit has been running around Hell's Kitchen beating up gang-members and taking down a city-wide conspiracy to rule New York. Literally anything is possible. People should know this by now. For how well Daredevil used and acknowledged media coverage of events from the rest of the MCU to affect the story. This is especially odd, since the characters make use of the internet on multiple occasions to obtain information. I know that some of the points the characters make about how people will literally make up any excuse to try and get away with crime, but they shouldn't be dismissing the idea offhand, especially people who know people who have superpowers. 
Jessica convinces her sometimes-boss who's a lawyer, Jerri Hogarth to take the case in exchange for digging up dirt which will let Jerri divorce her (No, the character was not a woman in the comics) wife without giving her any assets.
Meanwhile, Jessica begins a relationship with local bartender and superpowered invincible dude, Luke Cage (Played by  Mike Colter). While Jessica was under Kilgrave's command, she killed Luke's wife.
Eventually, Jessica figures out that Kilgrave's major weakness is being put to sleep, so she steals a bunch of heavy-duty anesthetics to knock him out with. She also teams up with one of Kilgrave's former minions, a cop named Will Simpson to capture him so she can get a confession out of him and clear Hope's name. After a few trials and errors, they manage to get Kilgrave into their trap and on-camera. They locate and bring in his parents to try and talk him into confessing, but that and Jeri disabling the electro-shock system in the cell allows Kilgrave to escape.
Kilgrave commandeers Jeri's car and makes her take him to a doctor to patch up his gunshot wounds from the escape, so she takes him to her wife. Eventually, Kilgrave makes Jeri's wife try and kill her, but Jeri's mistress shows up and kills the wife.
Despite this and other setbacks, Jessica manages to finally catch up to Kilgrave after the situation with Hope is made moot and kill him. She is then left in a position where she may eventually be defended by Foggy Nelson and Matt Murdock.
Aside from the aforementioned massive plot-hole (Which I can only presume must have been a massive oversight on the part of Marvel) this season was pretty good. I didn't even notice it at the time because it's only brought up by a caller on Trish's show and barely mentioned at all later.
I will say this however. The show has no idea what it's going for in terms of plot at times. Will gets hospitalized at one point and starts taking Super-Soldier pills to keep him going after Kilgrave murders a bunch of his friends. The pills wind up driving him crazy and Trish is forced to help Jessica take him down. This is after Will and Trish became intimate, and bonded over their mutual ideals. After they deal with Will, the people who gave him his pills take him away and this is never brought up again.
Then there's Kilgrave. Kilgrave is a great villain, and his moral ambiguity combined with the characters tendency to be a magnificent bastard makes him incredibly entertaining to watch. David Tennant is part of the reason the character is so great. His charisma helps sell the role like nothing else. It's just awesome to see him playing a villain again, and some of his quips are just so freaking funny. The problem is that they couldn't seem to figure out how they wanted to portray the character. They go from mildly sympathetic, childlike woobie who never learned any better to irredeemably purely sadistically evil at multiple points in the season. Almost like there were two writers fighting over how they wanted to characterize him and they didn't have anyone stopping them from mucking up the tone of the show. There's an entire episode dedicated to Jessica teaching Kilgrave how to be a hero, with him taking a liking to it before she betrays him and captures him. This seems to be setting up a situation where she's at least partially responsible for his reign of terror afterwards, but Jessica never appears to care about this, despite feeling responsible for the death of Luke's wife despite being under Kilgrave's control.
At one point, Jessica and company find a bunch of videos of Kilgrave as a child being experimented upon and tortured by his parents. After Jessica finds his parents, they give a story which not only contradicts what Kilgrave told her about them, but also what she'd seen in the videos. Yes, they're pretty much terrified of him, but we have no reason to believe that their story or Kilgrave's is the correct one. Supposedly they were trying to cure him of the virus that made him able to control people (Yeah, that's totally something that could happen. That's not less believable than actual telepathy) but the things we see in the videos make them seem like they were actively trying to encourage this, and Jessica, who's supposed to be one of the least trusting people in the whole MCU, just believes them right off.
That's before we come to Jessica and Kilgrave's relationship. Kilgrave brings up a lot of things he'd done for Jessica while she was with him, and she basically dismisses it as him projecting. He also brings up times when he's let his control lapse to see what she'd do, and rather than going straight with his version of the story, thus making their relationship more complex and interesting, they make it so Jessica actually did try to escape and Kilgrave made her cut her ear before stopping. This seems like a bit of a cop-out when the season so far has done its best to try and make the actions of every other character seem morally grey as opposed to black and white, yet they seem almost determined to make Jessica seem like the put upon hero and Kilgrave the unequivocal villain. I know he's not supposed to be totally sympathetic, but they did their best to make the audience like him without actually paying off his character-arc. I was expecting to see something along the lines of Jessica actually being a willing partner to Kilgrave up until he made her kill Luke's wife and then convincing herself that he was always controlling her all of the time. It would have made for a nice angle on the psychological end, since Jessica is obviously a bit unstable already thanks to the death of her parents and her abusive step-mother. This would have also placed more responsibility onto Jessica's shoulders to justify her sheer levels of self-loathing and guilt. Aside from that though, I don't mind how it turned out. The characterization of Kilgrave and Jessica become massively unfocused by the end of the season, but overall it's still a pretty good show. The other characters however are pretty consistent, which is good.
This brings me to the amazing cast. Jessica is played by Krysten Ritter, who brings across the characters sarcastic self-loathing perfectly. Then there's David Tennant, who's awesome as Kilgrave for all the reasons I've previously mentioned. Mike Colter really manages to sell the "retired hero" sort of thing that I think they were going for with this version of Luke Cage. Wil Traval is good as ex-soldier and current cop Will Simpson. He's a tough son of a gun and seems like he genuinely feels bad about what he did while under Kilgrave's control. It's just a shame he had to be written out of the show.
Rachael Taylor works well as Trish Walker, the former child-star with a traumatic upbringing she'd like to forget. I'm not really sure what else I can say about most of the other members of the supporting cast.
However, there is one specific stand-out that I want to bring up. Eka Darville is in this series as Jessica's Neighbor Malcom Ducasse. Eka Darville is one of my very favorite actors. For those who don't know, Eka Darville played Scott Truman, the Red Ranger in one of my favorite television series of all time, Power Rangers RPM. Eka Darville, like the others in the RPM cast is a tremendously talented actor, who has been criminally underutilized. He's got a great range, and at this point I'm almost convinced that he can do anything and make it great. The sheer gulf between Scott and Malcom is astounding, with Scott being the confident leader type who tries to find the best approach to a situation, and Malcom being this formerly bright and sunny character with noble ideals who was drug into the Kilgrave conflict against his will, forced to become a drug-addict and subsequently forced to overcome it. Malcom does dark things that he knows is right, but it eats himself up inside to the point where it actually causes Jessica's team some trouble, while Scott was the moral center of his team, not because he wanted to be or because he was just there to fill that role in the ensemble like some Rangers are, but because he knew what Corinth needed, and was able to fill that role better than almost anyone else could. For that reason, the characters are basically polar-opposites, as they display different emotions in different ways. Not even just emotions, but also entirely different body-language, tones of voice, method of speaking, gait, and everything. Where Scott had a confident stride, Malcom has a nervous sort of shuffle.
All in all, the story is pretty good and the characters are good as well. While they could have done with a lot tighter characterization of Kilgrave and Jessica, the show is still entertaining to watch, and interesting as they try and unravel the many mysteries within.
In the end, I give the first season of Jessica Jones an 8.1* rating. It has some troubles towards the end, but if you look past them you've got a dang good Neo-Noire series.

Image from impawards.com