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Sunday, January 25, 2015

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is the 2013 sequel to 2012's Hunger Games adaptation. Something I have to say about this is that while it's not a perfect adaptation of the book, it's probably better than the last movie. While it's cut out a ton of story elements, it's actually got less problems then the first one. Now unlike with the first movie, it had been about two or three months since I'd read the book. My summer movie and book marathon had crammed so much into my head that it started to blur into a huge mess. Plus, I had just finished up on the last two Transformers movies, and The Expendables. I don't know if you've read them yet, but if you have you'll know the kind of contrast we've got going on here. After seeing The Expendables, almost anything looks good. Remember what I said about not putting out my review of the movie until after I'd put a few others out? Well that's why. I wanted you to know what my mindset was going into this movie.
So they cut out all mentions of District 13 until the end of the movie. All the little bits of it. The inspection of the footage of District 13 that exists to find out that they're re-using the same stock footage over and over again was cut. They cut out the refugees from the other districts fleeing to District 13, even though they kept the scene with Katniss and Gale noticing the hovercraft looking for them. That means that a lot of plot elements for the Mockingjay movies have been cut out. Two whole characters in addition to the other characters they've cut out from the rest of the series.
Anyways, they re-contextualized the scene to show the arrival of the new head Peacekeeper. Not a horrible use of the screentime, but not a great thing for the series as a whole.
So anyways, they show the new head Peacekeeper and his team executing the old head Peacekeeper, which isn't something I was too fond of. I liked it better leaving his fate to the imagination, because for all we know they locked him in a room with flesh-eating beetles, or just left him out in the wilderness. It can be as horrid or pleasant as the viewer likes, but I suppose it could have been executed worse....
Anyways, some more scenes have been cut-out and added as with the last movie, with varying levels of quality. The victory tour is way more involved than it was in the book, but with the rioting having been more overt. You see, I liked that you weren't sure how much support the resistance actually had, lending more mystique to the whole story. Especially when they show the man being executed in front of them. I also liked how the Capitol's retaliation to the rebellion was also more covert, trying to deal with things on the down-low (For the most part). They've cut out a lot of how District 12 was affected by the new, harsher Peacekeeper regime. And they also cut out a lot of the character development between Gale and Katniss. And this is a lot of important things.
Leading into something else I disliked about the movie is that you learn how big a bunch of monsters the resistance are sooner then you did in the books. Philip Seymour Hoffman's character, Plutarch Heavensbee comes off as completely and totally unconcerned with anything other than the mission he was supplied with by District 13. Granted, he does a good job of seeming like he's on Snow's side throughout the movie, but I don't like that they revealed the level of monstrosities that District 13 committed while combating the Capitol. Granted, they haven't shown how very little that District 13 cares about its citizens and soldiers yet, so they've got something left over for Mockingjay, so it might just be some decent foreshadowing. I don't know. The scenes with Plutarch don't ruin the story as much as the scenes with Seneca Crane did in The Hunger Games, so I suppose that's an improvement.
Now, the end of the tour at the capitol has had a scene cut out that punctuates the importance of The Mockingjay, which is where the last book in the trilogy, Mockingjay got its name. One with Heavensbee showing Katniss the Mockingjay hologram in his watch. Granted, they sort of made up for it by showing the Mockingjay emblem painted on a wall in one of the districts while Katniss and Peeta are coming in by train.
Now, there are a few more gripes I have with the movie. I would have figured that Finnick would have been a little older then he was in this. They also had a similar problem with the chariot scene as did the first movie, in that they didn't have enough shots of all of the tributes in their costumes on their chariots. I complained about this in my review of the first movie too. I really want to see extended versions of those scenes in future releases of the movies.
The interviews of the Tributes are good. They could have been a lot longer, but whatever. I actually liked how they rounded it off. Something I didn't really like about it though was that Peeta came off as unassertive. In the book he delivered his lines with a lot more fervor and hatred, but in the movie he came off more meek and nervous. Granted, I liked the crowd's reaction to what he said but if he'd been a little more assertive with his line delivery it would have been a little better. Also, they were sitting down during the interview in the book if I'm not mistaken.
When they killed Cinna it came off similarly to the death of Rue in the first movie, sad but less sad because you didn't know him very well.
Now, you remember when I said that them cutting out Katniss's deaf-ear would affect the plot of this movie? Well it did, but not as much as I would have thought. It's actually implemented really well. Despite that, I still wish they'd done it the way it was in the books.
Throughout the movie I don't really have anything to say about it. It's pretty much a good experience. They abridged the plot fairly heavily again, but it's much better than how they treated the plot of the first movie. There are a ton of things added into it, but they're all very good. They don't feel like unnecessary padding at all, strangely enough. And it ends fairly well too.
All in all, I liked it a lot better than the first movie. Then again, after hours of lying on a bed of gravel a cheap foam mattress would feel like heaven. So at the frame of mind I was in when I was watching the movie, I have to say that it's an 8.2* rating.
I'll see you next week with 2012!

Sunday, January 18, 2015

The Amazing Spider-Man 2

So, I finally saw the new Spider-Man 2. Took me less time than seeing the original trilogy did.
Something I noticed, is that The Amazing Spider-Man series is being released on about the tenth anniversary of the original movies. The Amazing Spider-Man was released ten years, one month to the day after the original Spider-Man was released. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 was released about nine years, eleven months after the original Spider-Man 2. And to be honest, I actually like this one better than the original Spider-Man 2. Granted, I did get pretty angry at the film at one point (We'll get to that) but I never wanted to turn it off because the whole thing was boring.
Granted, I didn't think Spider-Man 2 was boring, per-say. I can't really pin down why I don't like the original Spider-Man 2, but this movie certainly didn't do that.
So, I've stayed away from spoilers ever since this movie came out, but that hasn't kept me away from accidentally hearing other peoples opinions about it, and some people have been saying the movie isn't great.
I disagree. Despite my severe dislike of certain things in the movie, I actually think it's fine.
Well, not fine exactly. But we'll get to that.
Spoilers might be inbound, so if you want to just see the culmination of the review just Ctrl F the * and look for my score.
The main problem I have with this movie, is that it's not nearly as slick as its predecessor. The flow is a little bit wonky, and it's got a little bit too much going on. And at the same time, not enough.
Now, let's talk about the first villain. Everyone know about Jamie Foxx as Electro, and I think he works very well as the character. They develop him quite a bit, and he has a decent arc. His whole story is pretty compelling, despite him being kinda nuts. It's not much like the Electro from the comics, but the character is interesting, and his motivations are understandable. He's also kinda crazy, so it's easy to root against him.
And onto the second villain.
As everyone can see, The Green Goblin is featured prominently on the DVD cover, the poster, and the rest of the marketing pretty much. Electro's arc is the main focus of the film, but the Goblin doesn't fly in out of nowhere.
The problem is that he's not as developed as he probably should have been.
And finally, the third villain. The Rhino. Also featured on the big spread poster, and the DVD cover, but not featured as much in the film as the other two villains. He shows up at the end of the movie to create a cliffhanger for The Amazing Spider-Man 3 or the Sinister Six movie.
Let's go into the plot of the movie, now.
There are some clips of Peter's father doing things that get explained later on in the movie, and a scene that I won't talk about because it's really good, and needs to be seen in person to be understood. Suffice to say that if you know the comics, you know what happens in this scene.
An unknown amount of time after the first movie, Peter is attempting to stop a group of hijackers who stole an armored car with radioactive isotopes inside while on the way to his graduation. The scene is action-packed, funny, and awesome to watch.
A running theme throughout the movie is that George Stacy's ghost is haunting Peter, a bit like how the original Spider-Man 2 had Uncle Ben haunting Peter.
You know, I just realized that The Amazing Spider-Man killed off two of Peter's father-figures in a single film...
Anyways, that ghost pops up and ruins Peters' whole day. And this is where we get to an issue with the pacing.
That popup just pile-drives the pacing into the ground, unfortunately. It provides some necessary development for Peter, but I don't think that it flows from the last movie as well as it could have.
It's almost as if someone wrote the action scenes and then wrote in all of the strange ghost stuff in later. Kinda of like how all of the action in the original Spider-Man 2 seemed like it was written before the rest of the story, or at least separately.
I don't have any problem with that kind of thing specifically. I do think it could work if it was executed well, but it didn't seem to flow very well when I watched the movie.
Granted, Peter Parker is defined by the hurdles he overcomes. By the issues he has, but doesn't let affect him, so maybe I'll appreciate it more on repeat watches. Then again, I thought that plot was stupid in Spider-Man 2 every time I watched the movie. The only place I could really appreciate it was in the novelization of that film....
Anyways, there's some discussion between Peter and Gwen later on that leads to her breaking up with him. After that, Harry Osborn makes an appearance. My first impressions were that he looks nothing like his predecessor in the role, James Franco. He's coming back to New York to meet with his terminally ill father.
That's right, Norman Osborn dies in this movie, but not in the way anyone would expect. He isn't run through by his own glider, he dies from a wasting disease.
Something I feel I should point out is that Dane DeHaan rocks as Harry. He sells the role in all kinds of awesome ways. If I had to pick a replacement for Willem Dafoe, it would be him.
By the way, Harry Osborn is The Green Goblin in this movie.
And while there are certain changes made to his character that make his actions irredeemable, I don't fault them for it, because DeHaan makes such a great villain.
Dane DeHaan is probably best known for his role as Andrew Detmer in 2012's Chronicle, and I have a feeling he's headed for success, because these roles couldn't be more different.
Sure, the characters both come from abusive situations, but Andrew was introverted and shortsighted, while Harry is confident, savvy, demanding, and at times, more than a little hammy, but that can also be interpereted as him knowing what buttons to push to piss people off and make them do what he wants.
Anyways, Harry tells off the board of directors in spectacular fashion, and then the movie switches to Max, a guy obsessed with Spider-Man. He holds imaginary conversations with Spidey while getting ready for work.
At work, Max is abused by his coworkers and superiors, and fantasizes about shouting at them really loudly.
Needless to say, the man has some problems. Problems which are exacerbated when he's forced to stay after work to fix a power line without proper precautions.
If you didn't guess, this turns him into Electro.
He's left for dead in the Osorp morgue, and busts out, revealed to be made of electricity. He starts walking around New York, finally coming to Times Square, where he starts feeding on the power lines. The cops are called, and Peter helps them sort the situation out as Spider-Man.
This whole scene and all of the leadup are very well made and don't require further comment.
Afterwards, Harry determines that he needs Spider-Man's blood to help him survive the hereditary disease his father had, which is already starting to affect him. Peter reluctantly agrees to help him find the web-slinger, and later visits Harry in his suit.
He tells him that he can't help him until they've had more time to test the psuedo-super-soldier serum, but Harry misinterperets his caution as selfishness and goes a little nuts.
This is where one of my issues with the film arises. There wasn't enough development of Harry's state of mind, it didn't make a whole lot of sense why he went so nuts so fast. Granted, dying can do that to a person, as can being raised by Norman Osborn, but in all of the scenes immediately prior, Harry didn't seem very desperate, or concerned.
Now, there IS a deleted-scene that shows that Harry found surveilance photos of Peter, dating back to just after the Parkers died, and continuing until recently. In that scene, Harry shows some resentment that Norman paid more attention to Peter than he did his own son, but as we haven't seen more than a few minutes of Norman Osborn interacting with anyone, it's impossible to know if Norman had the same fatherly relationship with Peter as he did in the Raimi series.
You see what I mean by it not having enough happening. It seems like there was about an hour of story cut out of the middle of the movie....
After that, the board ousts Harry, having framed him for the coverup of Max's accident. Harry decides his best course of action is to free Electro from his prison, where he gets experimented on by a cartoony German mad scientist.
One who looks and sounds a lot like the cartony German mad scientist from The First Avenger.
Harry does so, displaying some baffling CQC skills that were never mentioned in the movie, or explained. Granted, it was pretty awesome to see Harry beat up those guards.
Harry and Electro put together a plan to lure out Spider-Man, while they also storm the Oscorp building and steal an inferior copy of Tony Stark's Iron Man suit, and some unfinished, untested Super Soldier serum.
After an epic fight with Electro, the newly mutated Harry Osborn shows up, having just killed a bunch of Oscorp mercenaries (not that the main film actually shows you that, you gotta to into the deleted scenes to see it) and thirsty for Spider-Man's blood.
This is where I get to my second issue with the film. Harry just stands there, hovering for a while, a couple of armslength away from Peter. He should have just webbed Harry up and hauled him back to a containment cell, Peter is fast enough to do that.
Instead, everyone just kinda stands there. Peter's Spider-sense should have alerted him that Harry was coming, and given him time to prepare, especially when Harry was hovering next to him, or while he was descending into the power station.
Harry deduces from the fact that Gwen is present, and helping Spidey that Peter must be the web-slinger. That would have been less of a leap if they'd left a scene where Peter displays his superhuman reflexes by accident to Harry in the film, so as it is, all we've got is one scene where Peter tosses a rock across the river a little better than he should be able to. As it is, not much to go on.
So, they fight, and Gwen gets captired by Harry.
I'm pretty sure everyone knows where this is going. I certainly did, despite all hopes to the contrary.
You know, even though I knew it was coming, even though I knew there probably wasn't any other way the movie was going to end, I still cried when she died. I still hated the movie for it, and I still wished it had turned out differently.
After that, Peter quits being Spider-Man for five months, until he stumbles upon Gwen's graduation speech. That speech inspires him to put the suit back on, and go back to fighting injustice wherever he might find it.
So, since the casting of Mary Jane Watson is inevitable, I'm going to throw out a recommendation for her actress.
Emma Stone.
She has the natural red hair, great chemistry with Andrew Garfield, and she's a great actress.
And that could also make for some pretty cool plot points. Peter could think that Mary Jane was the ghost of Gwen haunting him, and then find out that she's actually another girl. Why not?
Sony, you can use that if you want. I won't charge you anything for it, just stick my name in the credits and give me a lifetime pass to all of your movies.
All in all, aside from the ending, the movie is very fun to watch. And despite some pacing issues, and issues with the development of Harry Osborn as a character, I still liked the movie, for the most part.
The only issue I have left is that all of the extended, deleted, and alternate scenes actually should have been in the film.
And also, there's no alternate ending where Gwen doesn't die.
Or where Peter goes all Bane on Harry.
Or where Peter webs Harry up and hauls him to jail.
I give it an 8.3* rating. I'll see you soon with more reviews!

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Top six best games of 2014

So, 2014 has come to a close, and this is the time when everyone's posting their games of the year up.
This year as the last, I haven't played many new games, but it's actually wound up being a better turnout than last year, because I don't have to put games I've only played the demos of on here just to pad the list.
And aside from two of the games on the list, I have actually finished all of these.

#6: Mighty Gunvolt

This game isn't one of my favorites, but I figured it needed to be on the list anyways. Despite the amount of difficulty I had with Mighty Gunvolt, I did keep playing it a while after I finished Azure Striker: Gunvolt. It's pretty fun, but I wasn't able to spend enough time with it for it to rank higher. It's fun, but I didn't have as much fun with it as I did the other five choices. In other words, it's pretty good, but not as good as....

#5: Super Smash Bros for Wii U

This might seem like cheating for a game that I've only played a few hours of, but I had fun with it. And it's a really good fighting game. I don't necessarily like it as much as I did Brawl, but it's a great party game, what with the eight-player multiplayer. When you're passing time on Black Friday waiting for the giveaways at the local gaming shop to end, there's no better way to pass the time than a few sixteen-player Smash battles.
And I loved playing with the Wii U Gamepad. The problem is that I wasn't able to stick with it as long as....

#4: Chronicles of a Dark Lord: Episode II: War of the Abyss

I was going to place this game a little lower on the list at first, but then I finished it, and realized that it needed to be a lot higher.
Yes, I gave this game some crap, but it's still one of the best games of the year. Its placement on the list might be a bit controversial, especially considering the price it shares with the #2 on the list, but by no means does that mean this is a bad game. I did have quite a bit of fun with it, and it is quite a good game. The problem was that the pacing got pile-driven into the ground at the beginning, and I was never really able to get over that.
I deliberated over this next choice, about whether to place it above or below Smash U. In the end, it's obvious what I chose. I had a great time doing all the voices in my playthrough, and despite my problems with the story, it still is pretty cool.
But I couldn't bring myself to place it above....

#3: Alien Isolation

Surprise surprise, this game rocks. Alien: Isolation has gone a long way to reviving the Alien license, and reinvigorating peoples faith in SEGA (To some extent). Without a doubt, it's going to be the defining survival-horror game of the next decade. And I had a great time with it.
Deciding what order to put the top-three in when I was drawing up the list was a hard choice. The bottom three were a little easier, but after a while, it became a pretty tough choice, picking where to put War of the Abyss. In the end, this list took quite a bit of thought on my part. I added a sixth spot to the list just because I figured Mighty Gunvolt needed to be mention.
I pondered and pondered about how to place these top three. Alien Isolation was amazing, but the story didn't quite compare to....

#2: Azure Striker: Gunvolt

I had a third part of my ASG review planned, but I didn't have the time last year to get it recorded. I'll try to get it out this year, because it deserves that third review.
Out of all of the games I've played this year, the melancholy of the story has stuck with me since I finished it.
The soundtrack is a masterwork of composition, the gameplay is awesome, and the story...
The story is brutal.
Unfortunately, it is kind of short. It does reward repeat playthroughs, and I did enjoy every minute I spent with the game, but it still didn't have as much game for the money as....


#1: Chronicles of a Dark Lord: Episode I: Tides of Fate

While the version of Tides of Fate I played originally debuted in 2012, the game was released on Steam and Aldorlea in 2014. So I'm going to count it as such.
Tides of Fate is a great game, it's got a great story, it's brutal as all hell, it's epic as Lord of the Rings and it's as insane as a campaign of Dungeons and Dragons can be. It's one of the best games I've ever played. And it deserves this award. Best game of 2014 my friends.
So, it took me a while to get this out, but I wasn't quite done writing it. It took me until the fifth to finish Episode II, and I didn't want to put this out until after I had the game finished, because I might have reconsidered my placement, and in the end, I did.
I'll see you next week with the movie adaptation of The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Chronicles of a Dark Lord: Episode II: War of the Abyss

If you haven't read my first impressions article, please do so here.
I have to say, that I've never been more disappointed by an awesome game that's a sequel in my life, aside from maybe Majora's Mask.
And hell, that's not even true. Majora's Mask was just different from Ocarina of Time, not... Almost exactly like it.
And even Metal Gear Solid 2 was a vastly different from Metal Gear Solid, despite seeming at first like a self-parody and retread. I was hoping that my mind would be changed by the time I got to the end, but it's not.
Throughout the last... Two or so years I've been a fan of NecroVMX, he and his co-host of The List Critics, Tanya Botelho have been talking up how awesome this game is going to be. They talked about what kind of music they'd composed and commissioned for the game, about how hard some of the bosses would be, how good the graphics were gonna be, and about how much better than Tides of Fate War of the Abyss would be.
And some of that is in fact true. The graphics are improved upon from their counterparts in Tides of Fate, the music is still freaking awesome, and the story is still pretty good.
But it does't sit right with me. It lacks the spark of life and epicness that Tides of Fate had.
I got into this last week when I talked about how abrupt a halt the pacing came to. And unfortunately, it never truly recovers, even after almost thirty hours of gameplay.
Yes, new enemies are introduced, and yes some of them are very hard, but the difficulty curve in this game is a little less massive than it was in Tides of Fate. And that puts the gameplay at odds with the story, which is a problem the first game didn't have. Tides of Fate was all about the pacing, despite how much it skipped at the beginning. The thing that this game gets wrong is the fact that it skips some rather critical details in the year between Tides of Fate and the opening to War of the Abyss proper. And they cut out a lot, and I mean a lot of potential for role-playing. I won't go into this too much since I have already covered it in great detail in my first impressions. Suffice it to say that quite a bit of potential was squandered. Both for story, character development, and role-playing. And if they hadn't skipped so much, there might have been a good opportunity for Magus and his party to be beaten down, have all of their equipment damaged or destroyed and their skills taken away. And then having to work their way back up to god-hood, as opposed to just resetting everyone to essentially what they were in the beginning of Tides Of Fate with barely an explanation.
Or, depending on the actions of the players, to become even closer to actual god-hood through strategy, luck and perseverance, and not lose any of your skills and equipment. Granted, you'd still start out at level one, but with all of your upgrades and stats at about what they were at the end of Tides of Fate. Yes, you'd have to add in new skills and make all of the basic enemies more powerful so that the game wouldn't be too easy, but it would still escalate the stakes.
On the subject of the gameplay being at odds with the story, I might as well mention this. I'll try to stay away from spoilers here, but I have to say some things that may ruin the game for some of you.
In Tides of Fate, some characters die. Major characters. And they can even die in the presence of the most powerful healer in the game. They can even die if you have TWENTY phoenix-downs in your inventory. And this happens no matter what is in your inventory or what spells that any of your healers have.
But that might not be an issue if they'd done... Anything. The party just sorta... Accepts that the death is going to happen. That might sound like a minor issue to some of you, but it's a big sticking point for me.
Especially considering that they have a perfectly feasible excuse they could use. The Abyss is consuming them and healing won't work on them.
But even that's reaching, considering that they brought back a character that had been completely converted into an Abyssal, through a process known as Saitherance. And then they brought back another character that had been Saitheranced for well over a hundred, and possibly much longer than a thousand years. And the worst part is that they don't even try to heal them.
I.... Don't know what's going on there. Some other RPG series do the same thing, and it doesn't make any sense in those either. When death is as cheap as the price of a single phoenix-down, there's no reason not to resurrect everyone you can. And without any story explanation as to why that won't work.... It smacks a little of carelessness.
That's an issue that Tides of Fate didn't have. Despite some of the characters coming straight the hell out of nowhere, it did have a lot of attention to detail when it came to the story. It was a pretty tight concept in the end.
Not to say that the game is bad or anything, but it's got some issues.
So, let's go into why the game is good.
There's a lot of stuff going on, and it all seems to be pretty coherent. It's a fun game, certainly. I just don't think it's as good as the first game.
There are some cool enemies, some cool bosses, and cool areas. The story itself is pretty nice as well. I just don't like the transition between games.
So, on the list of things that I actually do like I might as well put the graphics. The characters battle-sprites all look much nicer than they did in Tides of Fate. And they've got some nice motion animations in the battles as well. No such motions for the enemies unfortunately, but the sprites for the enemies look very nice.
The battle system is essentially the same as it was in Tides of Fate. It's an ATB system, we all know how that works. Same as the controls, they haven't changed either. Movement still defaults to the joystick, which from what I've heard is an issue with the engine. No real idea why Enterbrain would keep doing that (If controller support is native to the engine) or why Kisareth would keep doing that either (If controller support has been modded into the engine.) because...... Well I'll get into why this is a major issue for me in a few lines.
The big change to the game is actually the Scion Grid, a system by which you can upgrade the parties stats and gain new abilities. I don't see why this was necessary.
The Scion Grid is a pain to use. The cursor in the Grid only moves in four directions, and it's very imprecise. Especially when controlled with the joystick, and it's not much better with the arrow keys on the keyboard.
I don't really like the way it was executed. Digital movement on the Scion Grid would have been much better.
Speaking of horrible controls, there's a fighting minigame.
Yes, there is an optional fighting minigame in an RPG. As in Kisareth Studios put a 2D fighting game into a Final Fantasy IV-styled RPG.
John, I know you love fighting games. And you're not alone, I like them too. But the controls are floaty as all hell. That, and the fighting engine is kinda broken.
Let's see, there's one button for attacks, and the enemies pretty much always have the block button on. Yes, the spectacle is pretty hilarious, but the gameplay of the fighting minigame leaves quite a bit to be desired for something you've got to do to get a level ten wisdom scion, required to unlock the top-tier of skills in the scion-grid, which can make the combat and bosses easier.
Speaking of which, the boss-fights are nicely varied, but most of them seem to be a bit easy. There are quite a few awesome fights, but most of them, up to the almost-final boss are kind of easy to get through.
The awesome fights include several where you play as a ship or multiple ships and get to fight both other ships and a gigantic monster.
But most of the individual bosses are a little too easy. None of them really have the same kind of sense of difficulty as the ones in Tides of Fate did. The final boss aside, because DAMN is that a deceptive leadup, considering how easy the boss right before him is!
And this is where I get to one of my last sticking issues. While the story is different, and the graphics are improved, the formula seems to have been copied straight from the first game. Start off with an epic battle, skip a period of time,  wind up less powerful than you were in the epic battle at the start, and then you gotta work your way up to godhood and invade hell.
Yes, I'm over simplifying. Yes, there are plenty of unique and awesome moments that break up the whole formula, including an entire dungeon that literally is hell. But it seems to be built around the same set of events.
To prove my point, let's talk about the plot. Spoilers inbound, my friends.
War of the Abyss starts off with the final boss from Tides of Fate, Xe'on. After you beat him, it transitions into a somewhat revised version of the ending of Episode I. Not really necessary, but I guess it serves the purpose.
After that, Nejero The Prophet and Magus narrate about everything we already found out in the first game. It's mostly pointless if you've played the original.
After that, time flashes forward a year, and we get some awkward as all-hell exposition from Gelina and Xiria about how Xiria broke up with Magus in the intervening time, and how Magus is now apparently going to marry Gelina...
And personally, this is where my problems with the game started. The first game was all about the buildup to the war, and skipping over a massive bulk of potential character-development, gameplay, roleplay and story.
And this little issue ruined the entire game for me. No matter how hard I tried to get over it, that massive slap in the face to pacing killed my enthusiasm for this game, and I still haven't really gotten over it.
Maga'ra and Xiria were only ever in the same room with each other once at the end of Tides of Fate, and to the best of my recollection, didn't share a single line of dialogue.
I know that there was that whole strange, three-person relationship that Magus, Xiria and Gelina had, but there were no clues I picked up on that Magus was drifting away from Xiria, or vice-versa.
Granted, a lot can happen in a year, I'm no stranger to that fact. But skipping all that time takes the agency away from the player, which defeats the purpose of a role-playing game, and especially one that claims to be as open as this one does.
I know the folks at Kisareth are going to be reading this, so let me lay out a little business proposition right here.
If you guys want, I can write up a story-treatment of a handful of events that could fill the intervening space, because I have a lot of ideas in my head of how that year could play out, with so many branches the players could choose that it's taking over my brain and keeping me from writing the story of a couple of my own games I'm working on.
Is that done? Okay, back to the review.
Magus's marriage to Gelina is interrupted by Abyssals invading the city.
So Magus and what he can assemble of the Army of Gods split up to drive the Abyssals out of the city.
They manage to achieve this goal, and time skips forward another month.
Then we make our way to the Kisareth/Illian bridge to help out some Kisareth soldiers.
If you think back, this is exactly how Episode I started. Except that Episode I just had the boss-fight, and not a bunch of soldiers that you needed to save too.
Okay it's similar, but not identical. I suppose it's a decent setup for the first boss, it is an invasion after all.
The problem is that it has a time-limit for some reason..... No explanation whatsoever. No ticking bomb, or whatever. Maybe it's the amount of time until the next wave of enemies arrives. I don't know. I didn't stick around to find out, I just killed all the enemies and finished the area off.
After that, we wander around a bit, talking to Magus's granddaughter (Who has aged quite a bit in the last year because Lee's are apparently very strange) and finding out that both rulers of Ilian have gone missing in the Lyani forest.
After battling through spiders and phallic-slimes and all kinds of other enemies, Magus and company get to a shack in the woods that has a ladder leading down into a torture-room in the basement.
And the basement is littered with dead-bodies. People stung up by their necks, tied to the walls, and left to bleed-out on the floor.
There's a couple of reasons why I included the full plot-summary in the full review. One was to recap for those of you who haven't read my first impressions, one was to send that shout-out to the Kisareth staff earlier in the article, and the final reason is that I wanted to raise awareness of a plot-hole.
Anari dies in this area.
And Isis is right there. Right. Freaking. There.
Isis is the most powerful healer in the game, and there's no explanation given for why everyone is weaker now than they were in the end of Tides of Fate. Or even the beginning of this game.
Isis, at the end of Tides of Fate could bring people back from the dead with full health. Even here, she can heal anyone mortally wounded back to full health. Instead of taking so much time to yammer on, why didn't she try healing her? She's her wife! They had a child together! What happened to the Isis that could take her staff and bring an army back to life?
And I had more than enough phoenix-downs to bring her back to life if she had died.
So, we're in a situation where we've got enough mana to heal a small army back to maximum, and enough healing-items to do the exact same thing, and we don't use them.
No reason given why it wouldn't work, and nobody tried anything. Nothing.
That doesn't make any sense.
That. Does not. Make. Any. Sense.
If you're sitting on a medical stockpile to shame a medical-bay from Star Trek, you shouldn't be holding anything back when your daughter/wife/sister is on the brink of dying!
And not to mention that there's a healing/save crystal right outside the freaking cabin. You know, the kind of magic crystal that can resurrect the dead!
See, this is why you either write-around these kinds of things if you want a character to die, or you just don't put them in the game. Don't just ignore it. I know some games in the past that were very well-acclaimed have had similar issues, but just because they're big-budget games that everyone likes doesn't excuse poor-writing!
And it doesn't excuse that kinda thing in any kind of game. No matter the budget of the game, nothing excuses poor-writing.
And do you know what the problem with this is? This happens twice.
The most powerful healer in the game, even if she has the freaking resurrection spell!
And technically, it happens more times than that! That's just counting the amount of times that Isis was present!
Anyways, getting back to the plot summary.
Everyone who's still alive sails off to Senefarria to find out what the secret-weapon they've found there is.
Now we come to a battle with the first of the four elemental mistresses. I remember saying that this didn't make any sense at the time, and it certainly didn't, but given what we find out later, it actually kinda does.
After that, my main problem with the fight was that it was just too easy. Hell, all of the boss-fights in this game are a little too easy. Or maybe it's just that I got used to how the battles in this series flow, and it just seems a little easy to me.
After that, it cuts to Anto talking with his people, and then slides off to Maga'ra and some troops she took with her into the Zelonian mountains. There, they meet up with Gelina Grey, and investigate some bizarre stuff going on in the town.
The weird thing is that there's maybe one or two towns in each country, and the rest is all pretty much grasslands and desert. There seems to be about twenty to thirty people in each country. I know there are supposed to be more, because otherwise there wouldn't be enough people to stand up to The Abyss, but each country has a capitol and a town. Some of them only have a capitol.
This is an issue that a lot of RPGs seem to have, that they only let you explore towns and places that are plot-relevant. Or ones where the developers put side-quests.
Moving on.
They find out that Magus's son, Cadar has apparently turned to The Abyss, and sold out his country and his world for the sake of power.
So, they can't really do anything about that, because they've gotta go find Cadars' sister, Trinity and keep her from being taken by The Abyss.
Trinity vanishes before they can get to her, and they wind up fighting the second of the four elemental mistresses.
After that's resolved, Magara, her soldiers, and Drea are teleported to Trinity's destination. There, they make their way through a cave until they meet up with Trinity again.
Then they proceed to teleport back to exactly where they started, Zelonia. So much for teleporting Trinity to safety, eh?
Anyways, they let Trinity make her way back to Kisareth alone, while the other four of them go back to New Haven and find that it's been destroyed.
After that, they face-off with Cadar, and make their way back to the mountains, where they find that Trinity hasn't been kidnapped yet and they make their way back to Kisareth.
After that, it cuts to some stuff that Xiria and Gelina are up to.
Throughout the game, you skip from character to character, covering a lot of ground, and then finally bringing everyone together at the end, letting you choose your four characters to lay siege into The Abyss with.
Around the middle, there's a stealth-section that sucks. I won't go into as much detail as I did in my first impressions of the game, so suffice to say that it's not very good and it's pretty annoying. If I had a chance to redesign any one thing in this game, even with how much I didn't like the timeskip at the beginning, I'd redesign this section entirely. Redo the mechanics, etc.
In fact, I'll take this opportunity to compare this forced stealth section to an impromptu stealth-section that was stealth by my own choice.
Towards the end of the game, when you're invading The Abyss (Again) I decided that I needed to find a vantage-point for grinding, where I could abuse a combination of the healing/save crystals and a nearby teleporter. I ran around, using my party-members to shield Magus from enemies, looting all of the chests and trying to get through the dungeon until I found a decent vantage-point for grinding.
And I did that because I knew that if I tried to get through it normally, I'd run out of health and mana items trying to survive until the end.
The funny thing is, I didn't actually need the vast number of items I'd bought and looted in for the final-boss.
That was a bit of a running theme for me throughout the game. All of the bosses seem like they were a lot easier than the bosses in Tides of Fate were.
The problem with this is, that I can't tell if this is just because I know what to do, or if the battles really are easier. John Sierra, AKA NecroVMX, the vice-president of Kisareth and the art-director said that Anto Calias would be a lot harder than Xe'on was in Tides of Fate, and I was either over-leveled for that fight, or it was a lot easier than he said it was going to be.
And I'm not sure which of the three possibilities is the right one. I mean, I leveled the part to seventy, same as what I leveled them to in Tides of Fate for the faceoff with Xe'on. First stage Anto took about three minutes and twenty-two seconds the second time around, and the second stage fight took about eight minutes.
The first time around it took fifteen minutes to defeat Stage One Anto, so I guess I had to have been overleveled. But last time when I leveled up to seventy, I barely eeked out a win against Xe'on after an epic fourteen-minute fight. This time it took under twelve minutes. Not that that's a bad thing, it just wasn't as hard as I was expecting.
The rest of the story mostly concerns Magus and the others running around the world rebuilding The Army of Gods to lay siege onto the Abyss, again.
I won't give away any more than I already have, suffice to say that this is a pretty cool plot, despite the problems I had at the beginning.
Now, I've only just finished the game at time of writing, so I don't know what the choices you can make as Magus do to affect the story, if they do at all. I am planning a second playthrough in the future after the game gets on Steam, but at the moment I'm a little burnt-out on Episode II. I don't really feel like playing through the entire game twice in a short period of time, so I won't find some of these things out until then.
The main issue I have with the choices is that the story seems to be a little too linear, and that there aren't enough options given to the player for role-playing.
Some of my readers might say that I'm being too harsh on it, because it's an indie-game, but I know the developers want indie games to be held to the same standards as expensive titles from big developers, and I'd like to respect those wishes.
Again, I don't know exactly how much the choices the players are given actually affect the outcome of the game, but I do know where I, as a developer would have put more options for the players.
For instance, It'd be nice to have an option to force Gelina to come back into the victory party with Xiria after the awesome naval-battle.
Or an option to choose which of the two Nexus towers to attack first. I looked for an option, and I couldn't find it.
There are a handful of other places where I felt like there should have been some option to do something else, but I unfortunately can't think of them at the moment.
Granted, certain aspects might have been cut-down because of the somewhat troubled development history.
I might as well take this opportunity to talk about that subject, or rather, what I know of it.
War of the Abyss was original scheduled to see a release about a year ago, but the company experienced a hard-drive crash and lost what I can assume was most of the assets related to the game, considering that the release was delayed by about a year. So they redid a lot of it.
And they also modified the engine quite a bit to do what they wanted it to. Again.
Since there's no complete list of basic features for RPG Maker VX Ace that I can find, so I'll just go over some of the things that I know about the engine from Wikipedia and my own personal experience with the defaults.
First off, they've changed the height of the character sprites, to make the characters look a little more natural. Second, they've changed the battle-system from the default first-person view to a side-view, as they did for the first game.
Third, they've added a fighting-minigame. It sucks. If you want a rundown, check out my first impressions.
Fourth, they've added an option to upscale the graphics in the options. Unfortunately there's no option to change it after you start the game, but you can change it before you start. Selecting 1920x1080 fills your screen (At least it does for me) to maximum. There's no fullscreen option, but you can fill the entire screen with the game. I'd have liked an option to just expand the field-of-view so that the graphics didn't get stretched out, but I can put up with that I suppose. From what I can tell through my research, there isn't a way to make RMVXA expand the field-of-view with scripting.
That't all I know off the top of my head. They've probably done a lot of things behind the scenes that wouldn't be obvious to someone who hasn't taken a peek at the source of the game.
Now, onto the music.
The soundtrack rocks. It's good, just as good as the music in the last game, if not better, because it has Eric Calderone on it. And honestly, when I heard that Eric was performing music for the soundtrack, that was what sold me on the series as a whole.
Something that I'd like to note, is that according to a comment made by the Kisareth Studios official Steam account, this series will have at least ten games.
Apparently they're planning three trilogies, with the series concluding with the ninth game in the series. And they've already announced the prequel, Shenandor'ah: Zero Chronicle.
And according to that same post on Steam, they're planning on "spin-offs, interquels, new IPs, and genre-specific games that will cover the spectrum of the CoaDL universe"
Remember what I said about this potentially becoming one of the defining franchises of the decade? Considering they've already got plans to outnumber the entire Final Fantasy franchise, and they're only on the second game, that's looking like more and more of a reality.
Considering the amount of positive praise this series is getting from gamers and critics alike, I wouldn't be surprised if Magus Drakhen Lee and Chronicles of a Dark Lord become household names soon.
Admittedly, even though I didn't like this game as much as the first one, and even though I think it's a step in the wrong direction for the series, I like what this game represents for the industry. It's the culminated efforts of a group with a vision, as opposed to the delegated efforts of a boardroom of executives wanting more money to wallpaper their houses with.
So, despite my lukewarm reception of this game, I do have to admit that it's fun, and that it's got its share of good moments.
Hell, when I actually finished it, I realized I'd been having a lot more fun than I thought I was.
So while everything I said still stands, I don't think anyone shouldn't buy this game. If you want to continue the story of Magus Drakhen Lee, I'd recommend getting this game. It's on Desura, and Kisareth has put the game up on Greenlight.
In the end, I give it a 9.8* rating. I'll see Sunday with my top five games of 2014!

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Batman Forever

Batman Forever.....
You know, Joel Schumacher probably wasn't the best choice of a director for this movie in hindsight. And looking back, I can't see why nobody picked up on this. He tossed Billy Dee Williams aside as Harvey Dent in favor of Tommy Lee Jones, despite Williams having portrayed Dent in Tim Burton's Batman for the express reason of playing Two-Face in a future sequel. And despite Jones not being black.
Personally, I think that Tommy Lee Jones could have worked as Two-Face, but given how the film is written, it doesn't.
The film starts out with Two-Face already having been splashed in the face with acid and had the whole split-personality thing already started offscreen.
And this is a problem that a lot of earlier superhero films have. Spider-Man skipped a whole ton of story between the death of Uncle Ben and Peter's graduation from highschool, Captain America skipped way too much time in between pretty much every event except the parts towards the end that it could have benefited skipping, and even the original Batman started out with The Dark Knight already established, and showing the origin in flashbacks.
You see, the exception to this whole thing is the last one. Batman had a decent flow and an awesome story. Spider-Man had the great story, but it skipped critical character development that The Amazing Spider-Man more than made up for. And Captain America was in development for way too long to keep up the decent if rather cheesy pace it started out with, which is why Marvel waited until The Winter Soldier to deal with the ramifications of having been frozen in ice for so long, opting to let us spend the first movie getting to know Steve, Bucky, and Peggy before the gut-punch and heart-wrench of an ending that First Avenger had.
You see, the problem with this method of storytelling is that any impact the events might have had on us is willfully destroyed to get to what the idiot who approved this script thought would be the interesting bits.
And considering we've got The Dark Knight to compare this to, we might as well start with Two Face.
In The Dark Knight, we spent quite a bit of time getting to know Harvey Dent, finding out what kind of person he was before he became Two Face, and we got to see what kind of hard time he had as a prosecutor in the corrupt-cesspool that was Gotham City.
In Batman Forever, we see Batman watching archival footage of Harvey Dent being splashed in the face with acid (Which I guess explains why he's white in this movie) and a load of Tommy Lee Jones being absolutely nuts in horrible makeup.
And with a rather bizarre plan and set-piece worthy of a high-budget remake of the Adam West series, (Which is right at the beginning of the film, mind you) Schumacher removes all subtlety from the character of Two-Face, and kicks any chance this movie had of being taken seriously right out the window.
Except the series from the sixties knew exactly what it was doing, and wasn't a followup to one of my personal favorite movie duologies of all time.
That's right, in the first handful of minutes the movie manages to prove itself to be a failure as both a sequel to Burton's masterpieces and as a standalone movie. Some might want to hope that it gets better later, and we'll get to that, but spoiler warning, it doesn't.
On the other hand, the only villain we actually see the onscreen origin of is Jim Carrey's Riddler. And it's rather unfortunately so, because we could have done without seeing Edward Nygma's creepy man-crush on Bruce Wayne. Or the rather ridiculous plot he has to take over the world.
With television.
If you haven't seen the movie, let's summarize how insane his plan is. He plans on trying to sell set-top boxes that project holograms out of the television straight into peoples brains, and then using this technology to drain the worlds critical information for his own nefarious purposes.
If this is sounding like something they'd have written for the sixties Batman series, it certainly did to me.
And if that wasn't cartoonish enough, you should really see the inside of Two-Face's lair. It's divided down the middle with angelic imagery on the left and demonic imagery on the right, complete with a concubine for each side.
And boy-oh-boy, the scenery in this movie is trying SO hard to be as good as it was in Batman: The Animated series. And it doesn't work very well in live-action. It just looks too goofy for this to be the same city from the first two Batman movies.
And the film just keeps getting more ridiculous and ridiculous as time goes on, with CGI setpieces that look like they'd be more at-home in an Austin Powers movie than a Batman one.
And Schumacher keeps adding in more weird things. At one point Robin has a shoutout line to the old series which makes about as much sense in context as "Hole-y metal Batman" does outside of context. And the given explanation for why Robin said it like that just leaves me to wonder why the character would say anything like that.
And finally we come to the strangest addition, the bat-nipples.
I know the most infamous example of this was Batman and Robin, but it started with Batman Forever.
And I keep wondering why anyone at Warner Brothers would have approved that kind of unnecessary and bizarre addition to the costumes, especially when it seems so bloody obvious when you look at pictures of Val Kilmer in the suit!
Speaking of which, that brings us to the cast.
Michael Keaton rather wisely quit the project after taking a look at the script, and despite his future career prospects, I have to say he made a smart move. Roger Moore and Pierce Brosnan stayed on too long as James Bond and just wound up embarrassing themselves. Keaton got out of the series before it got too bad, which was something the casts of Batman Forever and Batman and Robin should have done before the movies were released.
Among those who were considered for the roles of Bruce Wayne and Batman were Daniel Day-Lewis, Ethan Hawke, Ralph Fiennes, William Baldwin and Johnny Depp. That last one strikes me as both hilarious, considering how many Tim Burton movies Depp has been starring in recently, and because Captain Jack Sparrow is exactly what this movie needed to be somewhat interesting.
I have a feeling that it would have been a better movie if Depp had taken the role of Batman, but again, I don't blame him for not doing so because it's possible that if he had Schumacher would have had his mitts on the series for more than two films.
Val Kilmer was chosen for the role of Bruce Wayne days after Keaton quit. Kilmer took the role without reading the script or finding out who the director was, and I can't say I blame him for that either. If I got the chance to play Batman in a big-budget Hollywood film I wouldn't think too much about it either.
Granted, if it was a Seltzerberg movie I'd probably decline. But as long as all I did in the film was kick ass and be awesome, it might not be so bad.
From what I hear, Tommy Lee Jones only took the role of Two-Face because his (At the time) thirteen year-old son Austin wanted him to. Sort of like how Raúl Juliá took the role of M. Bison because he wanted something for his children to enjoy, or how John Simm took on the role of The Master in Doctor Who so he could show his son that he can act.
And honestly, I can't blame Jones for doing that either. It's not a bad performance, but it's let down by the lack of development.
I hear Robin Williams was in the running to play The Riddler in this film, and this is where the failings of Schumacher's Batman movies become apparent. They had big-names on the cast and failed to use that fact to its fullest potential. Robin Williams could have made a great Riddler, but then again, so could have Jim Carrey.
I've seen Jim Carrey do some amazing acting in his career. And there's no doubt that the man can act, and he actually is acting quite well in this. The problem I actually have is with how the character is written.
And that's no fault of the actor, I blame the script and director for that. The problem is that The Riddler is a rather poor stand-in for The Joker in my opinion, and that his origin and master-plan seem like they were taken straight from the silver and golden-ages of comics. Or at the very least the sixties show.
And I've already talked that topic to death, so let's talk about the performance.
I think that The Riddler as a cartoonish psycho could have worked if they'd had a more competent director and script, and possibly removing Two-Face from the equation. Unfortunately it doesn't.
And if his plans were actually the delusions of a madman as opposed to something we're supposed to take as a viable threat, maybe the movie could have worked, especially if he was the unwitting pawn of a greater villain, like The Joker or Ra's al Ghul.
Hang on, I've got a story treatment I need to submit to DC Comics
Adding to the list of people who didn't get cast as The Riddler is the late Michael Jackson. I have no idea how that would have worked, or why Jackson would have wanted to work with Schumacher again after having been totally ignored The Wiz adaptation, to the point of which where his major musical-number had him standing still.
And finally we get to Robin.
Robin, in this film is played by Chris O'Donnell, who the avid television viewers among the readership will recognize as G. Callen from NCIS Los Angeles.
Apparently Marlon Wayans had been cast as Robin after Batman Returns, and he'd also signed on for Batman Forever, but the decision was made to replace him with a white actor.
I'm not saying that Schumacher is racist, and I'm actually thanking him for this, because there's no way Wayans would have made a better Robin than O'Donnell, not with the amount of bad comedies he's got under his belt.
Apparently Leonardo Dicaprio was approached for the role of Robin, but declined after meeting Joel Schumacher.
Considering how many actors fled the project upon either reading the script or meeting the director, I'm surprised there weren't a million big red-flags popping up at Warner Bros. headquarters.
Then again, these people kicked Tim Burton out of the directors seat because they wanted Batman Returns to make a little more money, so who knows....
I've seen Chris O'Donnell doing actual acting, and he's completely wasted in this role.
And he's too old for the role of Robin. Sure, he looks to be about mid-twenties in this movie, but Robin was supposed to be about ten years old when his parents were killed. You know, about the age Bruce Wayne was.
So, let's talk plot.
Batman responds to a hostage situation in a bank, meeting up with his love interest, Chase Meridian.
After the utterly retarded situation is resolved, Bruce Wayne meets Chase again as his civilian identity.
He invites her to a charity circus and there Two-Face and company storm the charity trying to figure out who Batman is.
The funny thing is that I don't even have to point out how idiotic a plan that is, because the movie does that for me.
Two-Face says he's going to blow up the circus and kill everyone unless Batman reveals his identity.
The first problem with this is something I'll come back to, but the second problem is that Bruce Wayne actually ties to tell Dent that he's Batman, but all of the shouting of the other people drowns him out.
What I was getting at in the beginning of this paragraph was that Dent has no reason to believe that Batman has a secret identity. For all he knows, Batman is a guy who works for the government or some secret organization of superheroes working to improve the world.
And that's the problem with the movie as a whole. Things happen that really shouldn't.
I know Dent is nuts, but he really shouldn't be so nuts that this coincidence would actually happen.
And that's the problem, the story isn't very well told.
In this same scene, all of the acrobats in the circus get killed by Two Face, except for one. And you know who the one who survived is.
So, Two-Face and his henchmen scarper, leaving a bomb behind to blow up the crowd.
But today seems like a good day to get rid of an oversized cartooney bomb, because Dick Grayson manages to roll the bomb into a river, where it explodes harmlessly.
So, parents newly dead, Bruce Wayne takes Grayson under his wing and shows him his massive car and motorcycle collection.
During this sequence, there's a rather strange reference to the Superman films, which I was perplexed by the first time I heard it and still didn't know why it was there the second time I heard it.
I should probably clarify that I saw a handful of scenes on TV once, but never watched the whole movie because I had other things I wanted to do at the time.
An overwhelming problem this movie has is that it overuses throwaway references and one-liners as if it's an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie (Fitting, especially since Arnold was one of the three villains in Batman and Robin.)
For some reason, Nygma and Dent decide to team up to kill Batman and manage to put together enough capitol to mass-produce Nygma's mind-control TV set-top-pyramid.
With that, he steals millions of peoples information, and uses a machine like that to figure out that Bruce Wayne is Batman.
You'd think that Bruce Wayne would have some kind of psychic shields in his brain, especially considering I know people who can train you to resist mind-reading in the DC universe. Especially if Superman exists in this universe, in which case Batman probably would have asked his good friend Clark for some mind-strength training. Or something else. Or maybe mind-reading tech is new in this universe.
In which case, Bruce Wayne should have started on development for brain-filters when he found out that Nygma was working on something like that. And he knew. He found out pretty early in the movie.
After a sound thrashing from Dent, Nygma and all of their goons, Dr. Meridian is kidnapped, the Batcave is destroyed, and for some reason, Bruce Wayne is left for dead, as opposed to being straight-up killed or captured.
And yes, I know there are reasonable character motivations for this in-universe, but I'm not about to let this movie have one good word be said about it right now, because I'm seriously fed-up with it and what it stood for.
So, for the sake of making new toys, Batman dons a suit that looks like George Clooney's Batman suit, and Dick Grayson dons a suit that Alfred had made for him.
And that raises some questions about Alfred, because he apparently stuck bat-nipples onto Robin's suit.
And here is where I mention the ass and crotch-shots. There are only two of them, one towards the beginning and one towards the end, but they're still completely unnecessary, add nothing to the scenes that couldn't have been conveyed in other ways, and they seem like they were made for the sake of the director, as opposed to the audience.
And I know I wouldn't be complaining (as much) if it were shots of an attractive female dressing up like that, and that I sound like an uber-feminist the way I'm talking, but let's be honest here, who's going to see this movie, and why?
People who liked the originals, and fans of the comics. And I don't care what your sexuality is, or who's putting on the show, you don't come to Batman for fanservice.
No, I might not have gone on so much if we were talking about a naked Catwoman or Batgirl getting dressed, but my point still stands, and I would have pointed out the fact that it's out-of-place anyways.
You go to Baywatch or the ecchi section of your favorite anime-streaming wesite for fanservice, you come to Batman for an awesome movie.
Some movies can mix the two competently, I suppose, but that's not what Batman is for.
An example I can use is The Matrix Reloaded, there was a bizarre bit in that movie where Neo and Trinity had sex while some of the women in the celebration in Zion jumped around in slow-motion without bras or opaque shirts, and while that wasn't a turnoff for me, it still didn't make any sense in the context of the film.
And I hope that I can remain professional after that and not induce any hatred from my viewership for the previous statements. I just don't think that fanservice works in a Batman movie.
Would fanservice have improved Death Note by any measure?
No. Misa Amane or Naomi Misora getting their breasts out or having their panties ogled by the cameraman would have just taken away from the series. And that's the problem with these scenes that I seriously hope justifies these past several paragraphs of text.
Robin, like an idiot gets captured because he didn't want to kill Two-Face, and Batman finds him and Chase gagged and strung-up over a watery chasm.
And if you were wondering, yes, this is essentially the same setup as the ending for Sam Raimi's Spider-Man.
Except that movie executed it well. It had a decent villain, a decent setup for the hero, and no boring and scientifically unsound subplots about his responsibility and whatnot.
Speaking of which,. there's an ongoing repressed memory subplot which winds up being exactly as retarded as it sounds.
First off, repressed memory-syndrome doesn't exist. If you somehow do manage to forcibly forget something, you won't be able to remember it properly afterwards, if you can remember it at all.
I know willing suspension of disbelief is something that exists, but as a student of and enthusiast for the many branches of science, I can't let something like this slide. As a genius himself, Bruce should recognize that this whole thing about his memories is probably just a result of his having gone up against some pretty strange enemies in his day and having all of his memories stewed together into a miasma of dreamlike bizarrety.
And the major problems with this subplot are that A) Spider-Man 2 tried this and utterly failed at it (But was still a better movie than this load of bollocks) and B) Chase actually encourages Bruce to seek out these memories, even when her profession as a psychiatrist should mean she would know that you can't tell memories that you've made up from repressed ones.
No, I don't have a degree in any of this, but when you can find out more about this kind of thing by watching videos on the internet with a three-hundred dollar PC than a professional team of filmmakers did with access to a hundred-million dollars and professional psychologists and psychiatrists that could have told the production team how the human-brain works.
In the end, this film is a bit of a mess. It doesn't hold up against the Batman films that were made immediately before it, or the Nolan trilogy that came after.
The problem is that this movie was made to be too family friendly, because Warner Brothers decided it was a good idea to cowtow  to the moral guardians and make a safer film.
I'm not planning on reviewing Batman & Robin if I can help it. I've got much worse films on the review docket anyways.
All in all, I give it a 2.02* rating. Yeah, it can get worse, but honestly I'm not feeling very charitable towards this film, especially considering what this movie represents.
I'll see you next week with my top six games of 2014!

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Chronicles of a Dark Lord: Episode II: War of the Abyss: First Impressions

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The good folks at Kisareth were kind enough to provide me with the pre-order package that got sent out to the people who pre-ordered Episode II on their website.
Since this package was the first thing that was sent out to the people that pre-ordered the game, I'll be reviewing that first.
The contents of the pre-order package are a sketch gallery, containing twenty-seven pieces of art. A mixture of what appear to be watercolor character portraits accented by pastels, what I think are HD redrawings of backgrounds from the first game, and the box-art for Episode II.
Next up is the soundtrack for War of the Abyss. It's sixty-five parts, clocks in at about two and a half hours long, and takes up 341MBs. I haven't listened to it at time of writing, because I want to experience it as it's presented in the game.
Last up is a special thank-you video from the developers, announcing the title of a new game, known as "Shenandor'ah: Zero Chronicle.
Which I would guess is the prequel I speculated about in my Tides of Fate review.
The video also contains some alpha-level screenshots of the game, featuring graphics which will probably be updated and improved by the time the game is ready for release. There's no word on a release window for this game, which I assume to be a prequel to Tides of Fate, but if what I've heard out of the developers through their podcasts is correct, it will probably be sometime after Tides of Fate HD is released.

Now I should probably get around to talking about the game.
Chronicles of a Dark Lord: Episode II: War of the Abyss is the highly anticipated sequel to the game I reviewed last month, Tides of Fate.
I'm going to add this game to the growing list of what I call "Triple-A indie games", titles which have a ton of time and effort thrown into them by the developers, but are released independently of big-name publishers.
I might as well just jot down the thoughts I had when I fired up the game to rebind the keys.
Okay, that's the Kisareth Studios fanfare.
HOLY CRAP THIS SONG IS AWESOME AND THIS GAME IS GONNA ROCK.
War of the Abyss starts out... With the final battle from Tides of Fate.
As you can guess, I wasn't too thrilled about it. Xe'on was one of the hardest bosses I've ever faced, and I didn't want to have to fight him again.
But either they nerfed Xe'on or they just amped up the party, because it was a lot easier than it was in Tides of Fate.
Not that I'm complaining or anything. Since they changed engines and spent two years between releases, it's a nice refresher I guess.
And then... It skips a year.
And with that, most of the meat of the War of the Abyss. I know that Tides of Fate skipped a larger period of time, but I can see them doing that. Tides of Fate skipped a massive amount of time because the RMVX engine couldn't handle what they wanted to do with the story and gameplay for that period of time. And you know what? They skipped to the juicy part of the story.
In War of the Abyss however, they skipped thirteen months of story, thirteen months of grueling fighting and loss, and death, and character development.
What I'm trying to get across here is that they probably shouldn't have skipped all of that. The Kisareth team could have just abridged the whole year into the more interesting bits.
But my main gripe with it is the sheer amount of branches and storylines and sidequests that they just skipped over. Stuff that I would have loved to have been able to experience, and play, and possibly change the outcome of.
Between the timeskip, a lot of stuff happened. Among the notable things that happened during the year that they skipped, Xiria apparently had an affair with Maga'ra, and Magus divorced her for that.
This is somewhat baffling to me. Firstly because I know that Magus and Xiria were the digital avatars of a real life married couple, and secondly because Maga'ra and Xiria barely spoke to each other in the first game. So that doesn't make any sense in the context of what the player is informed of.
You see what I mean by it not being a good idea to skip a year.
The time skipping continues after the marriage of Magus and Gelina, skipping ahead a month.
And this is where we find out that everyone's skills and stats have been reset to what they were at the beginning of Tides of Fate. That is, except for Magus, whose skills have been reduced to Venom Slice.
No explanation given, no justification, and no clue as to why. Given how high the stakes were at the end of Tides of Fate, it's rather jarring that they'd take so much of a plunge. And that's highlighted by the fact that all of the characters are even more godlike in the flashback sequence at the beginning of the game than they were in my playthrough of Tides of Fate. If the stakes kept amping up at the same rate as they did in that game, they could have kept the pace going. As it is, the beginning of the game is somewhat of a letdown.
If the normal enemies were at least as powerful as say, the enemies from the Abyss in Tides of Fate were, and if the playable characters were at least as powerful as they were in that same game, then this might feel like more of a natural continuation as opposed to a jarring transition between two similar yet completely different games.
Considering how much Magus had achieved by the end of Tides of Fate, it seems like a major slap in the face to you, the player that he's lost all of the armor and other gear he and his friends looted from the Abyss and all of the skills they gained throughout thirty hours of brutal gameplay.
It's possible this could be sorted out by a future patch, or some DLC or possibly an interquel set between Tides of Fate and War of the Abyss. Or maybe the inevitable War of the Abyss novelization.
And yes, the engine transition meant that they couldn't use saves from Tides of Fate to continue in War of the Abyss. I get that, but after a while you can't keep making excuses for something. Metal Gear Solid 2 did this same thing where it just skipped a long period of interesting events. And yes, I did wind up liking MGS2 better than the original after a while, but from where I'm standing at the moment, I don't really like what they've done with the pacing.
So, let's talk plot.
Thirteen months ago, Anto Calias tricked the Army of Gods into setting loose Nihility, and started the War of the Abyss. Now the war seems to be dragging on into a defeat for the allied forces of Cora, but it shifts in their favor after a while.
Magus and his allies have been beaten back into a corner by the forces of the Abyss. With their supply-lines disrupted, their communications cut off and their backs to the wall, Magus and company band back together to avenge the fallen, drive the Abyss out of their world and kill Anto Calias.... Again.
But instead of being at the top of their game, and getting better with regularity like they were in ToF, everyone's been waging a losing battle for a year, and they're all strapped for resources.
Although maybe they'd be a little better off if they'd stop leaving their valuables and healing items in bookcases, down wells, and on sacks of flour.
Along the way, some major characters die.
And it's very sad, and heartbreaking, and everything.
So far, it seems like the story that we, the players are privy to does somewhat make up for the massive drop-off in pacing early on. It's all very touching, and it's also pretty interesting and cool, but I can't help but feel like it would all seem a little more meaningful if we'd actually experienced some of the back-story as opposed to having just been told it all happened off-screen, being given no chance to change it in the slightest.
On the other hand, you fight the four daughters of the Dark Mistresses from the first game in a very contrived way. They understand that the dude they're supposed to be cross with is the wizard, Zexor, but still want to fight Magus and his allies because they killed their mothers, even though they acknowledge that it wasn't Magus or any of his friends faults. The only one of the four fights that's actually justifiable from a sensible perspective is cut off part of the way through, because the character that she's fighting isn't one of Magus's allies.
The rest of the New Dark Mistresses fight Magus and his allies because they want them to "prove their worth" by defeating them, and that just seems like it's padding the runtime. Yes, the new Dark Mistresses theme is pretty sweet, and yes the game would be lesser without it, but the setup for three out of four of the new Dark Mistress fights is so bloody contrived that it really took me out of the whole experience.
Speaking of the fourth new Dark Mistress fight, I mentioned that the characters that fight her aren't Magus's allies. I might as well explain.
During one chapter of the game, you play as Eriadne, an Abyssal commander tasked with invading the Lee Manor and stealing the Inferni Diadem.
Most of this chapter is a mandatory stealth section. And it seems like it was inspired by a pair of similar stealth sequences in Ocarina of Time. When you get found out, you just get thrown out of the manor for some reason as opposed to being mobbed out and killed.
While you're invading the manor, you have ten minutes of invisibility, and it doesn't recharge when you get kicked out of the mansion.
You can get kicked out of the mansion by either walking through a pool of blood, opening a squeaky door, or opening a treasure-chest. Because apparently invisibility doesn't make you invisible if you make noise.
What I'm trying to get across here is the fact that this section was annoying. And since the controls haven't been fixed since the last game, it's a little difficult to not bump into the roaming guards every now and again.
If you're going to shove a stealth section into a non-stealth 2D game, either put some more thought into the stealth, just outright copy Metal Gear and Solid Snake for the MSX, or just don't put it in there. Honestly, this is the most repulsive and tedious stealth sequences I've ever had the misfortune of playing.
Now, later on that sequence drops back into traditional RPG combat, but it might as well continue being a stealth game (A much better one I might add) because you can just walk by all the enemies and traps without setting them off if you're careful. And unlike in Tides of Fate, you won't be underleveled for any of the following fights because you're already pretty powerful.
And the boss-fight right before you're dropped into the maze is about as hard as a mildly overpowered run-of-the-mill mook fight. It's a little perplexing how easy it is to get in and grab the Inferni Diadem......
So no, I didn't like the stealth in this game. It needed some tweaking.
So far, this game is pretty good. It could have done with a little less time being skipped and a little better pacing to link between this game and its prequel. After a while, you start to wonder how many prequels and interquels Kisareth is going to need to put out to patch up the storyline into something more coherent.
But right now, I do have high expectations for the rest of the game, as it seems to be looking up as time goes on.
I don't know what I've got scheduled for next week right now, but I'll try to get part two of my War of the Abyss review out then.
Hopefully I'll get my let's play of the game out sometime this week. I'm currently working on reconstructing the last part of my Episode I playthrough.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Elysium

I remember seeing promotional images for this movie, so I figured it would be a good idea to check it out. Matt Damon in a starring role is usually a pretty good sign.
Matt Damon is a factory worker named Max Da Costa in a futuristic crapsack society. He gets exposed to radiation while at work, which winds up shortening his lifespan to a few days. His only chance to live is to head off to the rich peoples place, known as Elysium, where they have regeneration pods.
He goes to an old friend who works for a mob boss and he gets a cybernetic exoskeleton implanted on him for a heist job.
Unfortunately, the person he's stealing the data from is protected by some insane freaking mercenaries, who shoot at them and wound Max.
Max goes to his old friend Frey, who asks him to take her daughter to Elysium with him to cure her Leukemia, but he refuses because he doesn't want to put Frey in danger.
Specifically, the danger that he's in from those Mercenaries.
But they get captured by them anyways.
Max saves them and delivers the data to a dude named Spider, who finds out the program can open up access to Elysium's regeneration pods to anyone on earth.
To be honest, this movie moves way too fast to be easily summarized, and I'm finding it hard to talk about. It's not what I would call a great movie by any means, but I would definitely say that it's a movie worth watching. Given how bad some of the other movies I've reviewed this year (And some I'm yet to review) it was certainly a better and more meaningful watch than say, Sharktopus.
Or for that matter, either of the Transformers sequels. At least this movie had some interesting characters in it besides the giant robots.....
No, I'm not quite done with the review.... I just ran out of things to say for a while.
So anyways, the movie ends on a rather melancholy note, with the poorer citizens of earth being given access to much better living conditions, and better medical care.
The director has said that this movie is not about the future, but rather about now. The message about the state of the world can easily be missed if you've not been paying attention recently, or to future generations who may not have the best idea of the state of the world in 2013. On the other hand, this movie could go down in history like To Kill A Mockingbird. Time will tell.
Among those approached to play the role of Max were Watkin Tudor Jones, a south-african rapper who I've never heard of, who turned down the role despite being a fan of this team's earlier work on District 9.
The role was then offered to a rapper I have heard of, Eminem. He wanted the movie to be shot in Detroit, which I could see, especially considering how bad-off Michigan has been over the last several decades, but that wasn't an option for the studios producing the film.
The effects in this movie were created by studying older science-fiction, and I like how they put them together. The sets, costumes, and props all have a very Aliens-like feel to them. I like the way the movie looks, personally. It never really had any moments where I said "That looks fake" or "That was chroma-keyed"
Now, there were a few things that didn't sit well with me. The movie is a little too fast-paced for my taste, and it's a pretty gritty movie, coming off of some slicker science-fiction like Star Wars and Star Trek.
Fortunately it's not the hardest of science-fiction, which would do a lot towards ticking me off.
I might get tired of that kind of gritty sci-fi after a while, like I did of The Walking Dead. Who knows.
So my summary was a little lame, but unlike a game it's a lot harder to talk about a movie without spoiling it, because you can't talk about gameplay as well.
So in the end, the movie was swift, punchy, and interesting.
I give it a 9.7* rating.
This review might not be the best I've ever done, but I hope to do better. I've been sitting on this movie for several months now, so I might decide to go back and write up a new review after I've seen it again.