Monday, September 28, 2015
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
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 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.
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.
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.
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 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
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 is 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
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!