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Thursday, October 1, 2015

Marvel Comics' Resident Evil #1

Happy Halloween everyone, and welcome to the 2015 installment of The 31 Days of Biohazard!
Unfortunately, I won't be reviewing any videogames this year, since my recording setup is in desperate need of a massive overhaul, and I'm determined to not record any more Let's Plays by pointing a camera at my television.
So, this year we're changing things up a bit. The good thing about reviewing an entertainment franchise is that they usually span a wide variety of media, and Resident Evil is by no means an exception. Capcom has made live-action movies, CGI animated movies, novels, board-games, restaurants, a theme-park attraction, an upcoming stage play of all things, and comics out of the game that defined survival-horror. For the last nineteen years, they've been licensing Resident Evil into every single medium they possibly can.
But for now, we're going to be looking at the very first Resident Evil comic ever published. The rest of this month, I'm going to be looking at the novels and comics based on games in the series I've already covered.
So, if you'll pardon me borrowing something from Linkara, let's dig into Marvel Comics' Resident Evil #1!
As you can see from the above image, this was a free comic. It was published back in April of 1996 by Capcom, in cooperation with Marvel, and was given away with copies of the game. At least, that's what the inside of the comic tells me. Wikipedia, and the Marvel wiki says that the comic was published in April of 1997. I've also found a lot of conflicting information as to how to comic was distributed. Some sources I've found say that it was a pack-in with the original longbox version of the game, some just say it was given away in an unspecified manner.
But no matter how it was published, this comic was still pretty hard to track down. I couldn't even find a copy myself, unfortunately. A fan sent me a digitized copy of the comic after much hunting sometime last year If I could remember your name, I'd give you a shout-out!
The only physical copies I could find on eBay were in the thirty-to-forty dollar range, and even so-called "Complete in Box" longbox copies of the game don't come with the comic. I've had a few of my friends pick up CIB longbox copies of the game, and the first question I always ask them is "Did it come with the comic?" and the answer is always no.
Plus, to the best of my knowledge, this comic was never reprinted. There have been plenty of trade collections of Wildstorm's Resident Evil comics, the Hong Kong manhua, the recent Viz comics. But as far as I can tell, the one-shot we're looking at today has never been reprinted.
Before we get into the comic, I'm going to lay down my criteria for reviewing these comics and novels.
First, I'll be looking at the material as it stands on its own. Second, I'll be looking at it as it ties into the franchise at the time. And finally, I'll look at it as it fits into the franchise as it is today.
Taking a look at the cover, it's essentially identical to that of the English cover of the original game, but with a few changes.
For one thing, they've added a big white box in the upper left, with the Marvel Comics and Capcom logos plastered above what appears to be Wesker's face. But for some reason he's wearing orange sunglasses rather than his standard black ones, and he's standing in front of a featureless blue background. Plus, his normally neat hair is sticking straight up in the air. And really, the only reason I know why this is supposed to be Wesker is because he sort-of looks like the Wesker in the actual comic.
I can't tell if this is just because of the scan, but the logo appears to be a lot darker than it was on the original cover. Plus, they've added some dripping blood from the "N", and they've shoved a giant eye behind the title, catching some of the blood, and ruining the perfectly efficient visual design of the cover.
Now, let's talk about the cover in general. Chris appears to be wearing grey camouflage pants, and a brown STARS vest, which is kind of weird, since that's not how Chris actually dresses in either the game, or the comics.
He's surrounded by surreal imagery, with two massive spiders appearing behind his legs, and transparent skulls, birds, and human faces on the ceiling above him. Plus, he's holding a rifle that I'm pretty sure never actually appears in the game, and certainly doesn't appear in the comic itself.
The opening narration boxes essentially describe exactly what Chris does in the opening of the game. STARS Bravo Team's helicopter crashed in the Raccoon City mountains when they were out investigating the recent rash of deaths and disappearances in and around the forest zone.
Except the narration suggests that they crash-landed in the mansions courtyard, when they actually crashed pretty far away from the mansion in the game. Plus, they also say that Bravo was fairly inexperienced, which isn't really the case. The only new member of the team was Rebecca Chambers, while the rest of the team were all fairly experienced.
The character pictured on the first page is one Richard Aiken, Bravo's communications expert and backup man. Right off the bat, I can see something wrong with the art. The actual radio you get from Richard in the game is a walkie-talkie,  but in the comic he's hauling around a suitcase-sized radio that looks like he pulled it out of Bravo's chopper.
Now, it's been a while since I played the original Resident Evil, but I don't think the room Richard is in on the opening panel is actually in the game.
Plus, he's doing that really annoying "Thinking out loud" thing that characters sometimes do in comics. All you have to do is shape the word balloon like a cloud and everyone will know they're supposed to be thinking, not speaking.
Then we move down the page and see what Linkara would refer to as an "Art Attack". Richard's face looks all out of whack in that panel. There are teal highlights here and there on the right-hand side of his face, which is also almost completely shrouded in darkness. This darkness also covers his left eye, making him look like Two-Face, as if the expression he's holding doesn't do that enough already. Then we get to his right eye, which looks massive.
Onto the next page, we see Richard running through a hallway, with a bunch of poorly-drawn fat zombies in the background, and some decently well-drawn ones in the foreground, even if they are silhouettes. The problem is, that two of them seem to be missing massive chunks of their heads, and one is missing all of the flesh on its left arm. As is established in the games, a zombie cannot function if it's missing most of its brain. Not to mention the fact that I've never seen a skeleton move in any of the games.
The zombie in the middle doesn't appear to be missing part of its skull and brain, fortunately. It's just got a screwdriver stuck into its head. I don't know if that's actually possible in any of the games, but at least it's capable of functioning within series logic.
Richard's dialogue in this panel is actually pretty good, conveying the urgency of his situation, while not insulting the readers intelligence by explaining something plainly obvious, and by having a good reason for him to be saying what he is.
The next panel is a silhouette of Richard on a black background, yelling into the radio, telling Wesker he needs to send backup. This is right before he notices that most of the wires on the radio-handset have come loose.
Back at the S.T.A.R.S. headquarters in Raccoon City, we confirm that the dude in the upper left of the cover was, in fact, Wesker. For some reason, he's wearing bright-orange sports shades, even though he's shown wearing jet-black ones in the opening FMV, not to mention in all versions of the opening cutscenes.
Fortunately, his hair isn't sticking straight up in the air, anymore!
The red phone on Wesker's desk rings, and he answers it. He also appears to be holding a massive knife in his right hand.
The call is from a cigar-smoking man named Holden, who never actually appears in the Resident Evil games, to my knowledge. He berates Wesker for giving in to public pressure and sending Bravo off to investigate. Wesker replies, stating that he arranged for Bravo to have a lethal transportation accident.
Yes, they literally gave away the ending twist in a pack-in comic. And as if that wasn't enough, Holden has a mug with "UMB" written on top of a parasol. No, it's not the classic Umbrella Corporation logo, it's literally just a drawing of an umbrella with the letters "UMB" on top of it.
Speaking of the art, the panel to the left of Holden is another bit of "art attack", because Wesker's mouth looks huge, and implies that he's shouting.
But apparently he wasn't, because Barry Burton opens Wesker's office door and didn't hear any of the conversation. Wesker hangs up the phone and starts telling Barry what the situation is.
In the very first panel on Page 4, Barry looks a lot like Billy Blazes, and in the next panel, Wesker's shades inexplicably turn red, before changing back to orange immediately after.
I'd just like to point out that S.T.A.R.S. Alpha had one office, with desks for each team-member, and a big one for Wesker. God only knows what Bravo did. Maybe they were housed in another building on-site.
So, in the third panel on page 4, Wesker's mouth disappears entirely, and his jaw just takes up his entire face, like he was The Maxx or something.
Again, he states that Bravo was too green to go out alone. To which I reply that if they were, they should have had Alpha as backup. Or better yet, don't send them out at night, if at all! It'd be less suspicious to just do nothing than to send out the Special Tactics and Rescue Service to sort things out and have them all killed, even if they were all green! Mark my words, people would as a lot less questions if they didn't have a bunch of dead special-forces operatives on their hands. But as we've already established, Bravo wasn't green, they were actually pretty well-trained, and were almost all veteran officers. Not exactly something that was immediately established in the first game, but the point still stands.
So, Barry asks what the plan is, and Wesker tells him that they're assembling The Avengers and going after them. Sorry, I meant Alpha Team.
See, this makes even less sense, because when Bravo goes missing, you obviously have to do something about it. Because of how events happened in the games, Wesker didn't really have a choice but to act fast and try and get a cover in place. In this scenario, it seems like they have a lot more time, in which case, Umbrella should send a cleanup crew to the Mansion to destroy all the evidence linking them and Wesker to the site, and then send in S.T.A.R.S. to deal with it.
Again, the comic seems to be running on different internal logic than the games are, because it once again references Bravo being green, even though that literally doesn't make a lick of sense.
Barry brings that up to Wesker, and Wesker says that he already told Barry that "They" insisted that Bravo get the assignment. This must have happened before the comic actually started, because it certainly doesn't happen on-panel. Also, I'd guess that the "They" Wesker is referring to is supposed to be Umbrella, but that doesn't really make sense, because Barry supposedly knows about it, even though Barry wasn't actually involved with Wesker's doings until Alpha arrived on-site at the mansion. This panel seems to imply that Barry's been under Wesker's thumb for a while now. Which doesn't make a whole lot of sense, because Wesker likes to work alone when possible and only takes on partners in crime when he absolutely has to. Plus, he's saying all of this out in the open, where anyone could hear it and leak it.
In the next panel, Wesker's mouth disappears again, and they state that the "They" Wesker was referring to insisted he lead the rescue mission. And that doesn't really make sense either. S.T.A.R.S. answers to the RCPD, otherwise the Chief of Police couldn't have disbanded S.T.A.R.S. after the events of the mansion incident. Wesker might actually be the one in charge of the police, but as far as official business is concerned, he's just the Alpha Team field commander, it's not like he's Captain Picard.
So, Wesker kicks the barracks door in and starts shouting at the rest of Alpha Team, telling them what's happened, and to get ready to fly gear up and fly out.
This little speech is incredibly out of character for Wesker, who's always controller and cultured about the way he speaks. In this, however, he's speaking like he's an army drill-sergeant!
Also, the Raccoon City Police Department didn't have bunks in it to the best of my recollection. Come to think of it, they didn't have a shower-room either, but that's irrelevant to this review.
The comic cuts back to Richard, trying to rewire the radio with his knife, as the captions state that he's furiously trying to rewire the handset.
The problem with that is that the frayed wires are clearly shown on page 2, and they appear as if they'd be fairly easy to reconnect. I mean come on, only three of the wires are disconnected, and they already look like they have the ends stripped off! It'd be fairly simple to just twist each wire back onto its mate and then tape it back up. And because Richard is the electronics guy, he should have some kind of tape on him. Be it duct-tape, or electrical tape. I mean come one, that's a thirty-second rewire job at the most!
I'd also like to point out that Richard isn't holding his knife properly for someone dealing with electronics.
But apparently the spot he found to rest isn't safe, because he's set upon by a pair of zombies. One of which is missing most of its' skull.
You know, maybe Richard should slash at their ankles with his knife, I hear that works well on zombies!
He runs away into a white void, and winds up in the room with the chess-pieces. He comments about how dark the room is, even though it's obviously well lit!
He backs into one of the chess-pieces, and the room begins to fill with toxic gas. He runs out (Presumably past the zombies blocking his way on the last page) and starts down a flight of stairs.
On the next page, Wesker is giving Alpha their final briefing before they head out, and it's on this page where we're introduced to the rest of the cast.
Jill Valentine is listed as the teams demolition expert, which doesn't make sense in the context of the original game, or the rest of the series. Jill never displays a particular talent with explosives in Resident Evil, rather being shown as skilled with lock-picks and medicine, which would make her the teams medic and B&E specialist, in addition to her post as rear security.
Up next is Brad "Chickenheart" Vickers, who's described as extremely timid, but one hell of a pilot, which is pretty accurate as far as the games go.
Then comes Joseph Frost, he's listed as the teams vehicle specialist, a bright and enthusiastic guy, and as the newest member of the team. The former two facts are true as far as I can tell, but I can't get any confirmation on the last one. There aren't really that many details on Joseph, since he didn't get a whole lot of screentime in either the original game, or the remake.
Finally is Chris Redfield, described as a former US Air-Force pilot who was dismissed for insubordination, and as a renegade, and a great marksman. Pretty much everything they say about Chris is correct. We'll see later on that Chris seems to be the one character whose details don't change a whole lot from one version of the story to the next.
Something I need to mention about the art is that there seem to be a lot of splotches on Chris's clothing and equipment. Richard had this same thing going on, but it actually made sense in his case, since he'd been fighting the undead. Chris just seems to have random splotches on his S.T.A.R.S. vest and his knife sheath, which don't seem to fit at all. Nobody else in this panel has that same issue either.
Onto the next page, where Wesker tells Chris to load the chopper up with as much firepower as it can hold, just in case they run into anything dangerous. This includes rocket-launchers. And this is all supposed to be happening in 1998! Three years before 9/11 happened!
This is what sort of led me to believe that Raccoon City had some sort of massive gang problem, and that S.T.A.R.S. was formed to deal with that. Militant gang warfare would explain why they seem to have such heavy ordnance on hand in the 90s.
Jill asks Wesker if he's serious about thinking there's something in the woods they can't handle, but Wesker says that they can't afford to make any judgement errors, saying that even though this version of Bravo Team was green, they were still good, and that if they've been cut off from communications, they should prepare for the worst.
The art for the final panel on page 9 is just bad. Jill's face looks all derpy, and Wesker is baring his teeth again, looking straight at the reader as if to say "Drop, and give me twenty!" I know he's supposed to be looking at Jill, but the way his head is angled towards the reader, plus the fact that we can't see his eyes behind his sunglasses leads to visual problem where it seems like he's looking right at the reader. Also, Wesker looks like Duke Nukem in this panel.
On the next page, we cut back to Richard attempting to rewire his radio in a room that I absolutely do know was in the game.
Now, instead of whispering, Richard is speaking at full voice, when he should probably be thinking all of this. Narrating aloud to himself winds up biting him in the ass quite literally when The Yawn (That massive snake in the first game) sneaks up behind him. How a massive snake can sneak around is anyone's guess. Maybe this Snake's code-name is Solid.
The next page cuts back to Alpha Team approaching the last-known coordinates of Bravo Team. The first panel is an outside shot of the Alpha Team helicopter, and the second panel is a shot of Jill's face, but rather than detailing her head, it's just her basic facial features slapped onto an off-white square panel. It makes her look like Cassandra O'Brien from Doctor Who. In the next panel, Jill's face looks fine, but the coloring on Chris's face is just a white on brown gradient. Plus, he speaks in that panel, but doesn't actually move his mouth. Jill does the same thing in the next panel speaking without her jaw actually opening.
Jill brings up that something is bugging her. She doesn't think he's telling Alpha the whole truth.
This isn't even a problem within the continuity of the games, it just doesn't make any sense in general, since on the next page, it's shown that Wesker is in the same freaking cabin as they are!
Anyways, Barry tells her to lighten up, because he knows Bravo can handle themselves. Chris says that Barry is being too optimistic, and Jill reiterates the fact that she's getting a bad feeling about the situation, and Barry tells them both that they need to relax. Brad tells them that they're about to land and the creative team of this comic finally display that they know how to use thought balloons. Chris thinks to himself that all Brad needs to do is get them on the ground, and the rest of Alpha Team can handle it from there on out.
On the final page, they show a pair of Cerberus's in the foreground as Alpha's chopper hovers about twelve feet above the ground. In the next panel, they show Chris, Jill and Wesker leaping out of the helicopter with Barry and Joseph following.
On this page, only Chris, Barry and Joseph actually look like who they're supposed to. Jill looks almost like she's supposed to, but she's missing a lot of detailing. And Wesker doesn't look much like Wesker is supposed to in this last panel.
Plus, there's their posing. Jill is leaping like Spider-Man, and Wesker seems to have leaped out heard-first.
Chris seems like the only one who actually dropped out of the chopper properly.
Mind you, none of them should be jumping out of the helicopter from that height with their guns drawn. Much less without safety ropes and harnesses. Would it really have been that hard to draw the chopper on the ground and have them walking out of it like a SWAT team would in real life? Why does it have to be so *EXTREME!*?
This closes out the comic, as the box in the lower right says "TO BE CONTINUED IN THE GAME!"
Before I start broad analysis of the comic, I'd just like to point out one more issue with the art. Alpha Team's helicopter appears to be splattered in mud, or partially coated in rust. It really doesn't make sense, either from the perspective of the comic, or the game. The helicopter was completely clean in the game, and even though you can't really see too many details on previous pages, it still looks pretty dang clean.
The last two pages of the comic are just ads for the game, featuring screenshots and a picture of the game-box.
A game-box which apparently has the eye behind the logo and the bleeding E. I can't actually find a final version of the game cover that looks like that, so I'd assume that it's just a test cover that never actually made it to print.
So, does this comic suck? I wouldn't think so. It's entertaining, and while it's got plenty of issues with the art, and a few issues with continuity with the game it supposedly leads up to, but I actually kinda like it. It's a shame that Marvel's run on Resident Evil ended with this comic, because I really like where I think they were taking this. They sort of make out that Wesker isn't a willing participant in the Umbrella Conspiracy, which could make for an interesting divergence of plot from that of the games. The art could certainly use a massive improvement, like I said before, but it's not a bad comic by any means. It had some potential, and I would have loved to see the cast of Resident Evil meet up with, say, ROM: Space Knight or The Transformers, like every other tie-in comic Marvel produced. It would have been kinda cool to see the S.T.A.R.S. members in Civil War.
All in all, while it has plenty of flaws, it's also a decent read for a fifteen page comic. If you can find a copy of the comic, it's a nice little piece of Resident Evil history if you want to own it. I know I'd love to find a copy for a decent price.
It doesn't really fit into modern Resident Evil continuity, since a lot of what they've established in this comic has been contradicted as early as Resident Evil 2 and 3: Nemesis, and then further contradicted by further sequels and the lone prequel.
In the end, I give the Marvel Comics' Resident Evil #1 oneshot a 6.3* rating. I'll see you next time with the first issue of the Wildstorm magazine!

Monday, September 28, 2015

An unscheduled break.

I'd like to apologize for this weeks lack of an article, I've had a few things come up, and I couldn't get either of the articles I was considering publishing this week finished in time.
But I have some good new! This October, The 31 Days of Biohazard returns!
Unfortunately I wasn't able to get any Let's Play content recorded this year, because unfortunately, my studio is under renovation. With the necessary restructuring of my equipment, I was unable to record gameplay footage of Resident Evil 3, Survivor, Code: Veronica, and Survivor 2 like I'd planned.
But fear not! I still have reviews planned for October! Resident Evil is a multimedia franchise, and this year we'll be covering the first series of Resident Evil comics!
After October ends, we'll be back to regularly scheduled articles. I hope to see you guys in October!

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Brandish: The Dark Revenant

Yes, it took me about seven months to finish Brandish: The Dark Revenant. In my defense, however, I've been adding games and other material to my review schedule almost constantly since January. And I've been trying to balance my currently hectic home-life while playing four games at once and putting out a review every Sunday. The good thing is that I haven't missed more than one or two weeks of reviews, and I also haven't missed two weeks in a row.
The unfortunate thing is that it was about two months between my Legend of Zelda review and part 2 of my Fire Emblem Awakening review. (Stay tuned for June of 2016 when I finally finish that game) There were far too many movie reviews and not nearly enough game reviews this year. I'd like to try and fix that if I can.
I know I say that immediately following a movie review, but the thing about that was: A) It was a recent release. B) I hadn't finished Brandish yet. and C) I'm the Editor in Chief around this corner of the internet, and I decide what goes out on this site. I'm the admin, so I don't have to explain it!
Ha. Ha ha. Let me know if that was funny.
Anyways, let's start talking about the game.
As I mentioned in the first episode of my Let's Play series, Brandish: The Dark Revenant is a PSP remake of the 1991 NEC PC-9801 and FM Towns game by Nihon Falcom titled Brandish: Unlock The Underworld. It was ported to the TurboGrafx-CD/PC Engine CD-ROM² on June 17th of 1994, and then for the SNES/Super Famicom on the 25th of June in 1994 in Japan and in February in The United States.
Then you have this game. Released for the PSP on March 19th, 2009 in Japan and on January 13th this year in America (And still no release date for Europe or Australia) The Dark Revenant was developed by Nihon Falcom, and published by XSeed (at least in the NTSC regions).
The very first issue is the fact that The Dark Revenant only got a real release in Japan. Everyone else got a PSN release, unfortunately.
Not that I can really blame XSeed, considering their financial situation and the need to turn a profit off of their projects, and it's hard to do that when you're having to spend money pressing discs for a PSP game, when it's easier to try and bank on the combined audiences of the Vita and the PSP.
That doesn't mean I'm any less disappointed we didn't get a real release, nor does it excuse the lack of a European PSN release at this times.
Now, as you can tell, there was a massive gulf between the Japanese release-date for this game and the American one. As best I can tell, this was due in-part to a struggle between Atlus and XSeed as to who would be localizing the game, which apparently lasted until sometime in 2013. And the release was announced at E3 2014, and then the game was finally released in 2015.
Apparently Atlus was working on their Brandish: The Dark Revenant English release sometime between the initial release of the game in 2008 and the budget re-release in 2010. One must wonder how far they got, and if any prototype units of the Atlus production exist.
Anyways, now that we've finished talking about the really boring stuff that I find interesting, let's talk about the game itself.
Brandish: The Dark Revenant is an action-RPG for Sony's PSP handheld gaming system that was recklessly and needlessly abandoned by Sony in a rush to release the Vita when there were still plenty of games being developed and localized for it. I blame Sony for the lack of physical releases outside of Japan for a lot of PSP games.
But then again, pretty much everything about the eighth generation of systems is based on reckless and needless abandoning of technology everyone has in favor of overly expensive and imperfect new technology that everyone wants to like, but can't, because they've ditched backwards and sideways compatibility between generations and platforms for absolutely no reason.
No, instead we've gotten further into the depths of digital distribution hell, because it's cheaper to publish games on PSN, Nintendo eShop, Steam, or XBLA than it is to put out a real game. Instead of, you know, putting out a bunch of games in a single physical collection like we used to. All the way back to the freaking SNES!
So, you play as an adventurer named Ares Toraernos, who is pursued by Dela Delon, a sorceress who is out for Ares' blood because he killed her master who was apparently some evil sorcerer dude. None of this is actually mentioned on-screen, mind you. It's all stuff that I've found out by reading the Wikipedia article. The lore you actually experience in the game is almost entirely centered around the dungeon you fall into.
So in the opening sequence of the game you get a massive lore-dump about a kingdom called Vittoria, and a king who wanted to harness the power of a magical dragon who was the guardian of the land. The guardian dragon shuts the king away in the tower at the center of the kingdom and builds an entire planet on top of the rest of the kingdom and then pisses off to go do something else.
A thousand years later, Ares and Dela do battle over a thin part of the planets crust. Dela busts a hole in the surface of the planet, and both of them fall down a rather ridiculous height to the surface of the original planet.
Seriously, the amount of levels that you climb in this game have to add up to freaking miles. But, then again, falling between levels in this game doesn't damage you, so I suppose it makes sense from a mechanics perspective as opposed to a logical sense.
Anyways, I wound up taking 64,317 steps in my playthrough. Assuming each step is about five feet (Using Dungeons and Dragons logic to divide up the maps into 5 foot squares) that means that I walked about 60 miles and 1,595 yards in my entire playthrough.
Sounds like a lot, but think about this. From the dialogue, I figure the game must take place over the course of a few years at least. And considering I walk at least a mile a day via excercise alone, that adds up to over 365 miles a year at the very least. So that opens up a rather strange plot-hole, wherein the estimated length of travel doesn't match up with the apparent time-scale, even taking into account the amount of puzzles you have to solve.
Here's the other weird thing. You meet NPC's and other obviously sentient creatures that have been living in this weird underworld for centuries, but none of them have managed to get to the surface. And you can tell that because all of the traps and puzzles in your way haven't been set-off or solved, respectively. Even if you assume that people haven't been living here for the full thousand years it's been sealed off, human-beings have been living there long enough that they should have figured out how to get through these puzzles by sheer accident. And I know how tough some of the monsters have to be, but what are the odds that literally nobody of our prowess has fallen into Vittoria in the past thousand years and survived long enough to solve all the puzzles?
So the set-up could use some work. For instance, if they'd reduced the amount of time between when the story starts and when the actual game starts. Or if they'd mentioned something about Vittoria changing its layout every now and again.
Then again, maybe they did and I just forgot. It's a bloody long game, and I took a bloody long time to finish it.
So anyways, the controls consist of using the L and R buttons to rotate, the directional-pad to move, the X button to jump, circle to attack, triangle as the general action button, and square to open your inventory. Select lets your rest to regain your health and mana, and start to pause the game, save, view the map, view your status, configure the controls, and quit to the main menu.
You configuration options include changing whether your stats display all the time, whether camera rotation is normal or inverted, and the ability to swap the functions of the L/R buttons and left and right on the D-pad.
There are also three Zelda-style quick-select slots, for three items. Except it's implemented a lot worst than it was in Ocarina of Time. You can sometimes accidentally activate an item when you're trying to attack or block, and that tended to get me killed in my playthrough.
Here's the thing, there's no dedicated block button in the game. Circle is block when you're not in immediate range of an enemy, it's attack when you're adjacent to an enemy, and it's the use key when you're holding a direction on the analog stick. That's a fairly big issue when you're trying to block a ranged attack after having used an item and you accidentally use that item again. So depending on what item you were using, you could either waste a potion, waste some mana, or waste a valuable item, on top of possibly getting yourself killed.
You can also change the volume of the music and sound-effects, as well as changing the music between the music composed for the remake, or the original music.
Personally I prefer the remake music, because the original music seems to lack much variety.
That's not to say that the remake music didn't get on my nerves eventually. Because it does. There's not enough music in the game to keep me from tiring of it, and had I not been Let's Playing the game for my YouTube channel, I would have been listening to a podcast or just different music while I was playing, like I did for Fire Emblem Awakening and Story of Seasons. That's not to say the music is bad, Falcom just didn't put enough variety into the music, especially considering that there seems to be less musical tracks than there are levels.
There's a reason why Sonic The Hedgehog had a new song for every level, because the same song played over and over gets old fast.
So, the level-design can be a bit irritating at times, and the puzzles are sometimes a pain to solve too. A member of the XSeed localization team said that The Dark Revenant was like a combination of Dark Souls and Etrian Odyssey on the official blog, and I can see why. There's a heavy focus on mapping out each level, like in Etrian Odyssey. The whole purpose of mapping out each level is so you can get an item at the end of each level, but the items aren't anything special, and I usually wound up leaving the levels partially unexplored at the end because I couldn't be bothered to traipse around the whole level again, because movement speed is pretty slow compared to the size of the levels.
Plus, I didn't do any backtracking because there's no fast-travel system.
The closest thing to a fast-travel function is a warp spell, which only lets you travel around on the same level that you're already on, which is helpful on some occasions, but I only remember using it a few times in the entire game. Plus, it's expensive, and you don't get it until about halfway through the game if I remember correctly.
Some of the bosses are fairly easy to beat, since enemies don't follow you out of the room they're in. You can easily go into the room, take a few shots at them, and then hightail it out of there. Then you rest, save the game, rinse and repeat. This is actually mentioned on the official XSeed blog, by the way.
This is a fairly decent tactic for most enemies, in fact. You clear out one room, open a new door and then stand in the doorway until an enemy starts to attack you.
This is especially useful when you're attempting to grind certain stats, like when you run into an enemy that jacks up your magical resistance when it hits you, or enemies that you get a lot of strength from hitting, or the like.
That is when the game doesn't just throw you into a locked room with a bunch of heavy-hitters, or if you don't stumble across a room full of ranged-hitters. In which case, you have to whip out the fireball spell and blast them.
Unless of course those monsters are immune to magic, in which case you gotta get into the room and hit them with your sword.
And there's this one spider-monster that spits web on you and freezes you in place that ambuses you out of nowhere at one point. It's immune to magic, and since you don't have a bow in this game (At least that I found, and I'm not about to play through a game this long more than once in the same year), magic is literally your only ranged attack. So you gotta be quick with your jumping and maneuvering to keep from being frozen in place.
And if you happen to be accessing your inventory at the time, you can't even get out of the web. Which means that you just gotta die and respawn.
You see, you get out of paralysis by wiggling the D-pad around, and you can't do that from inside the inventory menu.
Yes, you read that right. Accessing your inventory doesn't pause the game. I should also mention at this point in time that there's an equipment set that is all extremely powerful, but causes very negative side-effects for using it. It's the Demon Equipment, and this was where I first ran into the issue with the paralysis thing, because the Demon armor can freeze you in place. In order to take it off, you gotta access your inventory. But you can't do that when you're frozen. And the time you're unfrozen for is fairly short. So it's entirely possible for you to get frozen in place long enough that you wind up getting killed, and you can't do anything about it.
I wouldn't exactly call it a glitch that you can't access your inventory while frozen, but I would say that not being able to exit your inventory while paralyzed is a massive design flaw.
Anyways, there's basically no good reason to use the Demon Set in game, because the downsides are so big. Except on one level where you can use it without consequence. I sold the entire set (Sans shield, because I left that behind on an early level) for more inventory space.
Speaking of which, I missed an inventory expansion (Known as an Otherworld Box) at some point and I never felt like going back for it.
Speaking of which, I was reading on the XSeed localization blog, and apparently there's a casino that's hidden early on in the game that I never managed to find. Partially because I didn't know it existed until I sat down to write this review.
Now, you'll notice that I tend to refer to monsters by descriptions, accompanied by an occasional screenshot a lot in this review. The reason for that is the fact that the game doesn't actually tell you what the name of the monsters are unless you hit the triangle button while adjacent to them. And considering the games pace, it's not a good idea to waste time trying to figure out what the names of the monsters are.
Plus, I can't find a complete bestiary anywhere. The one on the official American website is incomplete, and the official Japanese website doesn't even have a bestiary!
Plus, the Wikipedia page for Brandish only has a basic summary of the plot and mechanics of the games, listing The Dark Revenant on the same page. And I can't find an XSeed wiki, a Brandish wiki, or a complete Nihon Falcom wiki anywhere. I also looked on GameFaqs and IGN and nobody had a complete bestiary that I could find.
Anyways, they've got a pretty good selection of monsters. Mind you, they could do with spacing them out a bit better, maybe with more variety of enemies around. It's the same problem I had with the music, they don't really change up the monsters all that often, and they could do with shaking things up more often than every now and again.
On the whole, I think Brandish is well worth the twenty bucks XSeed is charging for it on the PSN. I just wish I felt more compelled to explore the levels.
The problem is that unlike the only other PSP game I've beaten, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, I don't feel particularly compelled to go back to any of the levels, due in part to it being a massive chore to trek back to the entrance of most levels. Plus, there's the fact that some levels are mazes that connect to other levels which are also mazes. In addition to that, the closest thing you've got to a fast-travel system is fairly difficult to use. For one thing, the maps can be kind of confusing, as a lot of the later levels have multiple exits and entrances, and the map doesn't actually tell you which is which.
The other is that it uses a massive amount of mana to transport you across the map, and mana takes forever to regenerate. And considering I like to save my mana potions for when I need them, I never really used the teleportation spell more than a couple of times towards the end of the main game, like I said earlier.
The other problem is that the map in this game isn't as good as SotN's map.
I know the map in SotN could be a little obtuse, and not tell you where certain things were, but this map is even worse.
See, even though this map marks off doors, holes in the floor, water, walls, entrances and exits to a level, treasure-chests, and item-shops, there are some issues.
For instance, it only marks a door on the map when you open it, and marks it as a piece of wall when you walk by it. And it doesn't differentiate opened treasure-chests from closed ones, which led to a lot of confusion on my part.
Plus, while you can scroll through the maps of the levels, there's no clear connections between any of the maps, which makes it a real pain to try and backtrack. Which is why I didn't bother going back to explore any of the levels I skipped.
If it had been easier to backtrack, and if there were more clearly defined benefits to backtracking, it would make Brandish: The Dark Revenant a much better game. As it is though, it's still pretty a good game, if a bit drawn out.
Now, after you beat the main games as Ares Toraernos, you unlock a secondary part of the game where you play as Dela Delon. Fortunately, all of the levels in Dela's part of the game are original, they don't reuse any of the level design or puzzles from Ares' part of the game.
What they did reuse is all of the enemies and all of the music, so if you got tired of those a long time ago, you're not in for much in the way of new combat mechanics, or soundtrack-wise.
As Dela, you can't use shields, regular armor or swords. But you can still block attacks with your staff. Plus, you start off with a fireball spell in your inventory, since Dela is a mage, after all.
What passes for a shield is a set of ridiculous costumes, and inventory-filling special items.
I remember seeing a statement from someone who worked on the game (Either from XSeed or Falcom, can't remember who) saying that they estimated the main campaign of Brandish: The Dark Revenant to take about twenty hours to complete, and that Dela Mode would take about ten hours to complete.
I know that the screenshot I posted earlier of the ending screen of the game showed a twenty-one hour completion time, but the sum of all the footage I recorded comes up to about thirty hours, in the main game.
As of writing, I haven't actually finished Dela Mode, but I'll follow up on it later if there's anything I haven't already covered.
Now, Dela Mode is supposed to be a lot tougher than the main campaign, but I can't really see that so far. There are certainly a few puzzles that are tougher than the ones in the main game, but the enemies don't seem a whole lot tougher. They use a few boss monsters as standard enemies, but other than that, I don't think it's too much more difficult than the main game. It might just be that I've gotten used to its difficulty, and that this seems like a natural continuation of the difficulty level in the first part of the game.
I have to applaud Nihon Falcom for having Dela Mode as an unlockable part of the game as opposed to being DLC or putting it out as a standalone expansion. And they easily could have, let me tell you.
But I'll take a standalone expansion released on a physical disc over Gaiden DLC. And unlockable extras are always great.
Before I end the article, I'd like to mention that the artwork on Dela is kinda weird, at least in-game. The drawing of her on the cover is perfectly fine, but everywhere else she looks a little off. The detailing on her torso is what gets it for me, because while she's fairly skinny, she doesn't have much in the way of muscle definition on her stomach, even though her abs should be visible, if not a six-pack.
Plus, despite her rather voluptuous figure, she appears fairly flat-chested at certain angles due to the weird way she's drawn, with very little in the way of shading on her chest. She's essentially made up of a single shade of slightly off-white, with a few pink highlights around. She almost looks like she was drawn by a completely different artist than that of the other characters you meet in the game.
Plus, the model styling on Ares and everything else in the game looks fine, but the way Dela's model is rendered just looks a little weird. Especially given the way she's dressed. It's the same kind of problem that Anna in Fire Emblem: Awakening had, where her somewhat exaggerated features make her look kinda ridiculous.
Dela looks especially weird when she's at somewhat of an angle. Since there's not much visible definition to her breasts, it sometimes looks like she has one massive shoulder and one really tiny one.
But that's just an aesthetics quibble. I would have preferred slightly more detailed portraits for her, and possibly a different, less strange-looking model, but what we've got works just fine.
So all in all, I liked Brandish: The Dark Revenant. For twenty bucks on the PSN, I'd say it's well worth it, and for the amount of time and fun you can get out of it, it's a great deal. And who knows? Maybe we could try and get a physical release here in the States!
In the end, I'll give it an 8.3* rating. I'll see you next week guys!
If you want to buy Brandish: The Dark Revenant, check out the PSN store page: https://www.playstation.com/en-us/games/brandish-the-dark-revenant-psvita/

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Blood Punch

This movie is another thing I stumbled across by complete accident. I was scrolling through my Twitter feed when I saw that one of the Power Rangers related Twitter accounts I follow shared a video from Bluff Road Productions, with a few images from Power Rangers: RPM alongside it. So I looked into it, and found out that the movie starred three members of the cast of RPM.
The video in question was this one, and I decided to watch the whole thing. And it pretty much sold me on the movie, so I spent the entire intervening time between the release of that video and the release of the movie attempting to do like they suggested in the video, and pre-order the movie on iTunes.
But for some reason, iTunes just outright refused to connect to the iTunes store. I updated it, uninstalled it, and then reinstalled it, and it still didn't want to connect to the store.
So what did I do? I contacted Ari Boyland, who was running their pre-order rewards program and asked if I could talk to their PR guy, and they hooked me up with a review screener of the movie.
And bloody hell, oh bloody hell. I didn't know what I was expecting when I went into the film, but whatever it was, this movie just demolished all of them.
So, what kind of movie do you expect when you see the title, Blood Punch? It seems like the kind of title you give to a low-budget, direct to DVD action-schlock movie that winds up becoming popular in the kind of circles that like Asylum movies, populated exclusively by bad actors.
But that's not what we got. Not anywhere near that. At all.
One of the things I like about Blood Punch is that it feels very self-contained, and natural. It's a rarity to see a movie that doesn't have some sort of massive issue that sticks with me throughout the entire movie, annoying me. Either with pacing, character development, terrible special-effects, or just by leaving some massive bit of plot unaddressed.
I'm glad to see someone getting the art of film-making executed extremely well, and from an indie studio, and a first-time director no less! And I'm glad to see that it's making some headway, even if it's just in the Power Rangers community at the moment. And hopefully it'll go far beyond that, because it is a really good film!
IMDB and Wikipedia conflict a bit on this, but Blood Punch appears to have won about ten awards since its release. It's a shame that it's probably not gonna be in the running for an Academy Award, because I feel like this is best-picture material.
And no, I'm not just saying that because the cast is made up of my childhood heroes.
I've always thought that Power Rangers: RPM was the all-time best series of the franchise, and that was due in part to the chemistry and strength of the cast. That chemistry carries over into this movie with the main trio of Milo Cawthorne, Olivia Tennet and Ari Boyland.
They play Ziggy, Dr. K, and Flynn in Power Rangers: RPM, and Milton, Skyler and Russel in Blood Punch respectively. And they work oh-so-well together in this film.
The funny thing is they're all from New Zealand, but have got perfect Midwestern American accents in this movie. That's especially jarring coming from Ari Boyland, since I've only heard him speak in a Scottish accent previously. I always find it somewhat astonishing when I hear a person speak in one accent in one production, and then a different one in another. But it shows off a range of abilities.
So, since this is a horror film, I suppose I should talk about the atmosphere. And let me just say this.
Brilliant. It's amazing how this film manages to keeps its tense and slowly creeping, unsettling atmosphere alongside the funny bits they have. I suppose I'd liken the atmosphere to that of Alien Isolation, or the original Alien, but with a bit more levity. The fact that it manages to keep up its tense tone, and still have a few good black comedy moments without destroying the unsettling nature of the horror is pretty artful.
The placement of the comedic peaks helps contribute to the sheer impact of the sickening moment, and that's part of what makes for good horror. Like how the moments where you felt safe in Alien Isolation helped contribute to how scary the dangerous moments were.
Now, I won't give away specifics in this review, but I will say this: The way the movie starts, and is presented is in a way that I normally don't care for, but the way they use it i just perfect.
And the best thing about the whole film is that it feels like a complete story. There's no clunky exposition that makes you feel like there should be a few more scenes where they show, don't tell. There's no massive plot-holes left untouched that could have easily been fixed with a single line of dialogue. And there's nothing that I feel should have been expanded upon during the course of the film. The entire thing feels pretty much perfect.
Now that I've gotten that out of the way, let's talk about sound design.
For the most part, the sound of the film is brilliant. The music is almost entirely comprised of string instruments, with a woodwind thrown in for good measure, and they contribute to the atmosphere amazingly.
Then we come to the pair of Kevin MacLeod tracks they used in the background. I wouldn't exactly say they're out of place, just that it's somewhat strange to hear them show up in a movie like this, with vocals added in that just sound creepy.
The only songs that are actually name-checked in the credits are the two Kevin MacLeod tracks and a pair of public-domain traditional songs. I'm not entirely sure based on the very limited sample I've had from this movie, but Olivia Tennet seems to have a decent singing voice. Or, at the very least, a singing voice that contributes to the atmosphere of the movie.
But now that we've gotten that out of the way, let's talk about the sound-effects. In the beginning of the film, the sound-effects are a little bit weird.
Sometimes when a gun fires it sounds like the effect they used came from The General Series 6000 Sound Effects Library. The reason I know this is because I know that Doom used that sound-effects collection, and some of the gunshot effects in Blood Punch have the same kind of muted tone that the ones in Doom had.
Another small issue is that there are times where they put in sound-effects that don't seem to fit the action or situation attached to them. Sort of like the effects either weren't mixed into the rest of the audio properly, or like they just couldn't find the right kind of effect, so they just used whatever.
In a lot of cases, they would have been better off just not dubbing a sound-effect in, or just by recording the effect on-set, when the actors actually performed the real action.
But I will say this: The weird, out-of-place nature of certain sound-effects helps contribute to a somewhat uneasy feeling in the background that I actually think enhances the atmosphere.
There's also a point in time where the sound editors placed full-auto machine-gun sound-effects alongside the firing of a pair of semi-automatic pistols, and the visual-effects guy also put rapidly pulsing muzzle-flashes over them, when I'm pretty sure that the prop-gun they were using was modeled after a police-issue Beretta handgun, which isn't capable of firing that many shots at that high a rate. That's not too big an issue, since it flashes by fairly quickly.
But there's a much bigger problem with a scene towards the end of the movie, with a firefight that seems extremely poorly directed and edited. It seems a bit odd, considering how well-directed the rest of the film is.
There are sound-effects that are out of place, there are visual-effects out of place, and nobody seems to be aiming at anyone else. There are hundreds, if not thousands of bullets being fired off in that scene, and nobody seems to be aiming at a target. The entire scene just seems out-of-place, and bizarre.
Plus, the camera just stays still in one place for that little bit. Fortunately the shot is short, so it goes away fast. But I can't imagine a reason it would need to be there at all, considering that it seems to be rendered completely moot by all of the scenes that immediately precede and follow it.
So, without spoiling I'm just going to mention that I liked how the ending seemed like a pretty natural conclusion to the film. Like I've said before, it's a very self-contained narrative with a fairly logical conclusion. I didn't like how it ended, but I don't think I was supposed to like how it ended. The ending made me really uncomfortable, but I sort of liked the irony of the ending.
So, all in all, I liked Blood Punch. I think it's a great horror film, and I think it's a very good movie with a lot of very good moments. In the end, I'll give it a 10.0* rating. I'm knocking a point off for the sound-effects failures and rather bizarre gunfight near the end.
If you want to purchase Blood Punch on DVD, click on this link. If you want to purchase it on iTunes, click here.

Blood Punch provided for review by Bluff Road Productions. No employee of BDVR was paid to provide coverage of this movie by anyone. At all. No, not even you Jonah.
Image from www.bloodpunchthemovie.com

Wednesday, September 2, 2015


Well, August has been the all-time best month for the site! With the help of the Google+ Gaming and cinema communities, we've managed to break the all-time record!
With 2,877 views, August of 2015 absolutely SHATTERED the previous record for views on the site, set in October of 2012 with 2,060 views. July almost broke the record, but not quite, clocking in at 2,059 views for the month!
And this month is off to a great start, with 99 views only two days in!
This has been a big year for the site so far! I've been getting more games and a movie in for review, plus I signed on our first guest critic, Nathan Green! I just want to thank all of you for your support, and I can't wait to see what this next month has in store!

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Danganronpa (Guest Article)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bout time we cover the class trials then!

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

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

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

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

Climax Logic

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

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

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

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

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



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


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

Danganronpa gets a Highly Recommended

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

Age Ratings:


OFLC: M (Unrestricted)



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

Monday, August 24, 2015

Sonic and the Black Knight

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

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