r6ZueZjnmZ7B2W9HGZxNVvrBtMg BDVR: April 2016

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Sunday, April 24, 2016

Senran Kagura Burst

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

Cover from thecoverproject.net, screenshots taken by me.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Stranger of Sword City

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Stranger of Sword City gets a highly recommended.

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

BDVR Guest Author Nathan Green signing off

PEGI: 16

ESRB: T

CERO: C

OFLC: M (Unrestricted)

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

Jessica Jones: Season One

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

Image from impawards.com

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice

I never actually wrote a review of Man of Steel, but if I had I would have given it loads of praise and a high rating. 2013 turned out to be a fine year for superhero films, with Iron Man 3, Man of Steel, The Wolverine, and Thor: The Dark World being released that same year. Man of Steel was the kind of Superman story that people needed to see, not just for the fact that it dared to be bold with DC's flagship character, but because because it finally brought across the full character of Superman. And I do mean character, Man of Steel is the best portrayal of Superman that I've seen since the Superman: Earth One comics. Part of the reason is because he has actual limits outside of red sun-rays, magic and Kryptonite. Because he doesn't move faster than the speed of light, and because he's coming into his own as the titular Man of Steel. He doesn't know that he lives in a "world of cardboard" because he's never had the chance to test the limits of his burgeoning powers. Plus, he doesn't mess around at all, and at the end of the film he did exactly what he needed to do without having to attempt to justify his actions to the audience. You know why he was doing what he did, and you know why he had to do it. If you don't, please watch Man of Steel again and pay closer attention to what's going on.
Spoilers inbound as I'm gonna get into plot analysis.
The film begins with the death of Bruce Wayne's parents, and their funeral. They then proceed to recreate the well-scene from Batman Begins. Bruce Wayne (Played by Ben Affleck) arriving in Metropolis as he attempts to evacuate the Wayne Industries Financial building during the Kryptonian invasion, but General Zod and Superman smash into the building and it collapses before the people within can be saved. Bruce rushes through the debris and dust to the ruins of the building, where he finds a man with his legs crushed beneath a girder. He then rescues a little girl from falling debris. You wanna know how? Because he's Batman!
Eighteen months later, some salvage divers recover a huge chunk of Kryptonite from the wreck of General Zod's terraforming machine and brings it to the shore.
Meanwhile in Nairobi, Lois Lane (Played by Amy Adams) and Jimmy Olsen (Who isn't a teenaged redhead for some reason, played by Michael Cassidy) are out to interview a warlord, but one of the warlords bodyguard's finds a tracker inside and they kill him. Yes, they shoot Jimmy in the head. Jimmy freaking Olsen, Clark Kent's best friend and Daily Planet staff photographer, literally one of the most important supporting characters in the entire universe is killed in the first fifteen minutes of the film.
The warlord takes Lois hostage and threatens to kill her, but gunfight breaks out between the warlords hired mercenaries and his staff soldiers. Clark zooms in in his Superman gear to rescue Lois and beat down the warlord and his men. Lois returns to Metropolis where she recovers a strange bullet from her damaged notebook.
She runs herself a hot bath and soaks nervously for a while before Clark returns home with presents in hand. She and Clark talk for a bit about the prior situation before Clark steps into the bath fully clothed and the camera cuts away.
Meanwhile in Gotham City, the GCPD are responding to a disturbance with possible shots fired. The two officers enter the building where they find a Batarang stuck in the doorframe. In the building's basement they find people locked up in a cage, probably as part of a human-trafficking operation. The people within the cage refuse to be let free until the police check the floor above. There, the police find a man chained to a radiator and branded with the Bat emblem. They also see Batman up in the corner before he flees the scene. I suppose he must have been making sure they knew who he was, since one of the responding officers seems to be a rookie. Maybe they took him by surprise, but he'd had enough time to chain up the one guy and brand him. I suppose Bruce must have been interrogating the guy when the police showed up, but he's supposed to have a police scanner installed in his suit, so unless he turned it off while interrogating the guy (Which isn't something he would do, he's freaking Batman) he was probably doing that on purpose.
Bruce returns to the Batcave where Alfred Pennyworth (Played by Jeremy Irons) is working on a new voice-changer for the Batsuit. I suppose all that death-metal growling has gotten to Bruce after twenty years of fighting crime. Bruce and Alfred share a bit of playful banter that eventually descends into existential despair and poetic speechifying. Nice to see things haven't changed much since The Dark Knight trilogy.
Across the Delaware Bay in Metropolis, Clark is cooking breakfast for himself and Lois when he finds out about Bruce's exploits of the previous night. Bruce is no longer known as Batman, but instead "The Bat" as he's taken a much more brutal approach to crime-fighting as time has gone on. I suppose repeated encounters with The Joker over the years must have altered his approach to crime-fighting. The news states that this is the second person to bear the Bat-brand to be found. The news confirms that the man was a sex-trafficker and the first bearer of the Bat-brand was a child predator who was almost killed in prison. This makes Clark start thinking about other superheroes and their approaches to fighting crime.
Meanwhile, Lex Luthor (Played by Jesse Eisenberg) is goofing off in the Lexcorp gym with his employees when he meets with Senator June Finch (Played by Holly Hunter. Yes, that Holly Hunter from The Incredibles) Here it is revealed that this version of Lex Luthor is in fact Alexander Luthor Jr. No, not the new clone body Luthor made after being killed from Kryptonite exposure, just the son of the original Lex Luthor. As far as we can tell, anyways. For all I know, this could literally be the Lex Jr. from the comics. I'll get to this later.
He shows the senator around his lab after hastily donning a white coat. He shows her a sample of Kryptonite that his repair crew found in the ruins of Metropolis, and video of them testing the shard on the body of General Zod (Played by Michael Shannon, no relation to myself). Even dead, they can't damage Zod's body with conventional Earth tech, but the Kryptonite shard was able to not only pierce the skin of the deceased Kryptonian, but also caused a lot of damage to the bodies cellular structure, since the mineral gives off a lot of radiation. The conclusion they come to is that they can use the mineral against Kryptonians in the event that more come to invade, or that Superman turns evil. Lex brings up the massive Kryptonite chunk that the salvage-divers found in the Indian Ocean, and comes to the crux of the matter. He wants an import license to bring the huge Kryptonite chunk into the States. Because it's radioactive, he can't just bring it in normally. He sells this to the senator by telling her that he doesn't want a Nazi-esque Kryptonian regime for future generations to grow up in. While Superman is the only Kryptonian currently on the planet, Lex brings up that there are probably others, not just Kryptonians out there. This introduces us to the "meta-human thesis", the idea that superhumans walk the planet without the knowledge of the rest of humanity. Something which was probably brought up when they realized Superman had been on Earth for almost all of his life without anyone knowing who or what he was.
At the Superman monument in Metropolis, Wallace Keefe, (Played by Scoot McNairy) the man who was pinned by the beam that Bruce saved in the beginning of the film is now in a wheelchair because his legs were amputated. He climbs up onto the statue of the Man of Steel in Heroes Park and defaces it with a can of red paint.
Over at the Daily Planet, Lois is getting a call back from the crime lab about the bullet in her notebook, and Perry White (Played by Lawrence Fishburne) is trying to assign Clark to report on sports, but Clark wants to report on vigilantism. The problem is that vigilantes don't sell papers anymore, the exact opposite of what they do in New York City. Office-bunny Jenny Jurwich (Played by Rebecca Buller) sees a story on the news about Keefe's defacement of the Superman statue with the words "False God" now plastered on its chest in red paint. This causes Perry to go into full-on J. Jonah Jameson mode and start suggesting headlines such as "End of Love Affair With Man In The Sky?"
Lex Luthor begins negotiation with Senator Finch's aide about what he wants to begin experimentation. Luthor demands access to the body of General Zod, and his ship. He then begins harvesting genetic material from Zod's body.
Meanwhile, in the local fight-club, Bruce Wayne has bet on a boxer who takes down some guy who looks like a cross between Brock Lesnar and John Cena. He's there because he's looking to steal some data from the Russian guy who bet on the dude who seriously looks like Randy Orton and The Undertaker were fused together. Bruce cashes in his bet and clones the guys phone.
Back at The Daily Planet, Clark is trying to sell the story about Batman fighting crime on the docks to Perry. He mentions how the police actually help Batman out, and Perry shoots him down since news about crime-waves in Gotham and Batman fighting them isn't really news anymore. Clark tries to get Perry interested, but Perry shoots him down.
Lois walks into the conference-room with the bullet from the firefight and the news that the crime-lab couldn't figure out where the bullet came from. At all. Not on the white market, the grey market or the black market. Perry begrudgingly gets her a flight to Washington DC to talk to the Secretary of Defense, who hasn't been returning her calls or emails.
Senator Finch goes to Luthor's house to tell him that she's blocking his import license because she thinks (Rightly so) that he wants to use it to assassinate Superman. Luthor tries to hard-sell it one more time, but she doesn't buy it.
Bruce has a nightmare about blood and a giant bat bursting out of his parents' mausoleum before waking up.
In Washington, Lois ambushes Calvin Swanwick (Played by Harry Lennix), the Defense Secretary with questions about the bullet, but he brushes them off.
Bruce and Alfred discuss the data recovered from the Russian. Bruce has figured out that the data is being transmitted to Luthor's residence. Bruce wants to break into the house as Batman and steal the data, but Alfred mentions that he can get the job done as Bruce Wayne as well. Since Luthor has invited Bruce to the party, he begrudgingly accepts.
At the party, Clark is covering it for The Daily Planet. There, he meets Bruce Wayne and Lex Luthor. Clark's super-hearing picks up on Bruce's communications with Alfred and he follows him through the party to the server-room downstairs where Bruce plants a device to gather data from the server. As he's waiting, Luthor's assistant walks in on him, and he has to act drunk and confused to get away with being down there.
Bruce goes upstairs to mingle with the people where he meets Clark, who begins grilling him about his opinions on how Batman handles crime in Gotham. Bruce turns this back on him, saying that they were too quick to accept Superman as a hero, before they're interrupted by Luthor, who formally introduces them. Luthor goes over to talk to the governor and Bruce rushes off back to the server-room to retrieve his device, and Clark trails behind him. However, he sees on the television in the kitchen that there's a factory fire in Juarez during the Day of the Dead celebration, so he abandons the party and his pursuit of Bruce to rescue people from the fire.
Bruce finds that his device has been stolen, and a mysterious woman in red (Gal Gadot) appears to have taken it. Bruce suspects she took it, but she drives off before he can catch her.
The film continues into a montage of Superman doing super-things, and various people giving their opinions on him, featuring Neal deGrasse Tyson of all people!
The montage ends with an interview with Senator Finch, being asked if she thinks the risks of having a Superman outweigh the benefits, but she just says the question is moot since Superman is. They don't have a choice anymore. Clark sees this, and it weighs on him.
Lex Luthor pays Wallace Keefe's bail and gives him a new wheelchair, and a platform at the Senate Select Committee on Superman.
Perry confronts Clark about how he hasn't written anything about Luthor's party or football, but has in fact written a story about Batman. Clark tries to explain his position to Perry, but he doesn't want to hear it. This isn't the age of heroic reporters anymore, Perry says, and Clark needs to stop trying to break non-news.
Bruce tracks down the woman in red to a museum (because he's Batman) and confronts her about stealing his device. She gives it back to him since she can't crack the encryption on the data Bruce recovered.
Bruce takes the drive back to the Batcave and begins decryption, but falls asleep at his computer.
Within a nightmare, Bruce sees a future where Superman has formed an army and taken over the world. Bruce tries to get his hands on the chunk of Kryptonite that Luthor had recovered, but Superman's army captures him and brings him in front of The Man of Steel, where we find out that in this nightmare, Clark blames Bruce for the death of a woman he loves.
Bruce awakens with a start to find The Flash (Played by Ezra Miller and decked out in the same kind of gear that Grant Gustin's Flash was wearing in last week's episode of Supergirl) straining to bring Bruce a message from the future before being sucked back to his own time. The message is rather puzzling, but simple. Lois Lane is the key to whatever it going to happen in the future and Bruce was right about someone. Barry mentioned that he was too early, so I suppose he was going to try again later.
Now, Bruce has been right about a lot of things in his life, so this means Barry isn't necessarily talking about Clark. He could be talking about Maxwell Lorde, or Captain Atom, or any of the other guys who have betrayed the Justice League in the comics.
The decryption process has finished, and he searches for information on "The White Portuguese" and finds out that it's a ship. Bruce tells this to Alfred, and when Alfred doesn't buy that it's bringing in a dirty-bomb, Bruce reveals that it's bringing in the Kryptonite Luthor found, and that he wants to steal it. Alfred wants him to destroy it, but Bruce wants to have it as a failsafe in case Superman turns on the world.
Meanwhile, Clark receives a packet of photos of some of the people that Bruce has branded with "Judge" "Jury" and "Executioner" written on them with the question of "Who's next?" on the final photograph.
Out at the docks, Batman attaches a tracker to the truck that the Kryptonite is in and follows it in The Batmobile, but Superman intercepts him to tell him that he wants him to stop being a vigilante.
Bruce drives the now broken Batmobile back to The Batcave so he can use the instruments there to track the truck to the delivery site.
Swanick tells Lois that he's traced the bullet to Lexcorp, but doesn't want to speak about this on the record.
Meanwhile, The Senate Select Committee on Superman is finally convening, and Clark decides to ask his mother for advice on appearing. She tells him he doesn't have to if he doesn't want to, but Clark decides to show up as The Man of Steel anyways.
At the conference, Wallace Keefe is giving an interview about his opinions of Superman, and Bruce looks through the records to try and figure out why he hasn't been receiving his checks from the victims fund, and he finds out that Keefe has been sending his checks back with rants written all over them.
Luthor tries to convince Senator Finch to support his endeavors before the conference starts, but she shuts him down.
Superman flies down to the capitol building, outside of which the worst people in the human race are protesting him. He goes into the building to speak before the committee, but Keefe's wheelchair explodes, killing everyone in the room except for Superman. Clark begins to beat himself up for not noticing this until the microsecond before the chair exploded.
Luthor returns to Lexcorp to find the building trashed and on fire, with the Kryptonite missing, and a Batarang in its place.
Clark returns to the apartment where he begins his existential crisis, where he realizes he can't save everyone all the time.
Meanwhile, Luthor begins his plans to exploit the Kryptonian technology within the ship. He does this by attaching General Zod's fingerprints to his hands and using those to get into it. Why he couldn't have just taken Zod's body over to the scanner and placed his hand on it, I don't know. Luthor takes command of the ship and begins using the computer to learn about it.
Bruce begins working out in a manner similar to the way Stephen Amell's Oliver Queen does. There's the water pouring down within the lair, pullups with a massive amount of weight on his body, and puling around a lot of weight. I know Arrow copies Batman a lot, but in all my years of reading Batman comics, I've never seen the Batcave with water pouring down inside of it. There's just too much valuable equipment inside there for him to allow that much water to keep pouring into his lair. Plus, having cement floors covered in water when practicing martial-arts
As he works out, he also tests out new Kryptonite-based weapons, from gas-bombs to projectile weapons. When the last of the weapons is finally completed, Bruce looks through the rest of the files he stole from Luthor.
Within them, he finds files on the previously mentioned Barry Allen, a mysterious man with a trident (Jason Momoa) an experiment with cybernetic tech, and a photo of the mysterious women in red, Diana Prince. The problem is that the photo is from the first world war.
Luthor takes Zod's body into the Kryptonian Genesis Chamber and slashes his hand to introduce his genetic material into the mix. I suppose he must have figured out what that would do ahead of time. The issue I bring up is that, instead of Lex just extracting his own blood the usual way, like they do when giving blood, he slashes his hand with a knife. Excuse me, no nerd such as him, a person who works with his hands like that would opt to cut the palm of his hand open instead of using a needle and a blood-bag or just a syringe. Luthor seems like the kinda guy who likes to stay up late working or gaming (He's young, of course he does) and as someone who also likes to do this, I can tell you first hand that cuts on the hand or fingers make it difficult to hold or use a controller or mouse properly when you're in pain and have a bandage on your hand.
Jenny starts selling a story to The Daily Planet about whether or not Superman knew about the bomb. Meanwhile, Clark is off climbing in the mountains when the ghost of Johnathan Kent (Played by Kevin Costner) shows up to talk to him about how actions have consequences, and you can't always do something about those consequences.
Luthor's men kidnap Lois and Martha to lure Clark to the Lexcorp building, while Bruce suits up in his biggest, baddest Batsuit so he can finally confront Clark.
Luthor pushes Lois off the building, and Clark rescues her before confronting Luthor, who reveals that he's kidnapped Clark's mother, Martha as well. His men have orders to kill her in an hour unless Clark brings Luthor the head of Batman. Clark, knowing that Bruce is a great detective and not wanting to kill him, decides to extend an olive-branch in the hopes of being able to work together and save his mother. Bruce however has decided Superman needs to die, and begins his assault. Eventually, Clark has enough of his crap and punches him, but Bruce uses his Kryptonite gas-grenades to disable Clark's powers.
Lois commandeers The Daily Planet's helicopter to get to Gotham and the location of the battle fast enough to hopefully defuse the situation.
Clark manages to last long enough against him for the Kryptonite to wear off, but Bruce just pulls out another grenade and disables Clark again, which is enough for him to drag Clark to where he keeps his Kryptonite spear. As he's preparing to behead Clark with the Kryptonite blade, Clark begs him to save his mother. The same way Thomas Wayne was pleading for the life of his wife. At that moment, Bruce's vision of what Superman is shatters. That was when he realized that Superman doesn't see himself as above the human race. That he's not an aloof, godlike figure. That he's just a man, a man who wants to save his mother.
This was the point in time where The Bat became Batman once more. Where everything he started fighting for came flooding back to him. Where The Dark Knight returned.
Bruce throws the spear away and helps Clark to his feet.
Meanwhile, power has started surging within Metropolis, and Diana has noticed this. Within the Lexcorp building, the ship drains even more of the city's power as Luthor's unholy creation spawns.
Clark and Bruce hash out the situation, finally agreeing to have Clark handle the situation at the ship and letting Bruce find Martha Kent. Bruce strips off his damaged Bat-Buster armor and puts on a new cowl so he can increase his maneuverability in combat. Bruce flies off in The Bat-Wing while Clark flies back to Metropolis. Lois throws the Kryptonite spear into a deep pool of water so it can't be recovered to harm Clark.
Bruce tracks down Luthor's men who are holding Martha captive and beats them up, saving Martha.
Clark arrives in Metropolis to shut down Luthor's experiment, but it's too late. Luthor's creation arises, and the city goes dark.
The monster begins to fight Clark, who tries to fly it up and out of the city, but it gets free and punches him into Heroes Park. The monster smashes a slab on Clark's back, and tosses him bodily through the statue of Superman in the center of the park and into a skyscraper.
The military sends in a squadron of helicopters to try and destroy the creature, but they fail, and only succeed in making the monster even stronger. Diana, about to take a flight out of the city on Ferris Air, sees the monster on the news and books it back to Metropolis to help out with the fight against it.
Clark tries once more to fly the creature into space and away from the planet, but the government interferes and decides to nuke the monster. This weakens Superman, leaving him drifting in space, and makes the monster stronger as it re-enters the atmosphere.
Bruce flies in on The Bat-Wing and sees that the monster has survived the nuclear explosion. The thing begins shooting beams from its eyes, and that's when Bruce realizes the thing is Kryptonian, and can only be killed with Kryptonite. The only Kryptonite weapon left is the spear. Bruce decides to lure the monster back to Gotham's docks so he can get to the spear and get it out of the population-center of Metropolis, but just outside of the building, the monster shoots The Bat-Wing down, leaving Bruce open to its attack, but Wonder Woman blocks the beams with her bracelets, and sends a shockwave back at the monster. Clark, who had drifted into the sunlight, flies in at top-speed and tackles the monster away.
Together, the three of them conclude that the monster feeds on being attacked. Bruce loads his last Kryptonite grenade and Diana and Clark try to distract the monster while Lois tries to recover the spear, but she gets trapped under the water by falling debris. Clark rescues her and recovers the spear at the cost of his own strength. Diana restrains the monster with her lasso, and Bruce disables the monster for a while with his last Kryptonite grenade. As Diana holds the monster in place and as Bruce distracts it, Clark is the only one close enough to the spear to get to it, and flies it straight into the monster. With the last bit of its strength, the monster impales Clark, and the two of them die.
At Clark's funeral, it's revealed that Clark was going to propose to Lois before he died. With Superman and Clark Kent dead, Bruce and Diana attend his funeral, and decide to start forming a league of superheroes in case something like this happens in the future.
I'll be honest, I wasn't too optimistic looking into this film. I thought that DC was rushing to a Justice League film without developing the characters properly just to try and cash in on the Avengers craze. When the movie started off, I thought that it was just going to be a carbon-copy of the origin in Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy, but as time went on, I realized that it wasn't actually a reboot of the Nolan series, but a sequel. You see, at one point in time Bruce mentions to Alfred that they've "always been criminals". Considering the striking similarities to the origin in the Nolan films, plus the fact that Bruce mentions Gotham's history with The Joker and possibly Two-Face, as well as the date of death for Thomas and Martha Wayne, and the fact that Bruce has been Batman for almost twenty years, it slots into the existing Nolan mythos almost perfectly. At least if you discount The Dark Knight Rises, which is actually a good thing. I didn't hate The Dark Knight Rises, but it wasn't the sequel I had been hoping for. This movie, however, fits perfectly into The Dark Knight's universe, and actually makes a lot of sense as a sequel. Sure, a few things would probably need to be ret-conned to make it work 100%, but it wouldn't take much to make it work.
All I hope for now is that the Batman film Ben Affleck is writing is a sequel to Dawn of Justice and not a prequel to Man of Steel. Leave the prequels for the Wonder Woman film and nothing else. From here on out, work on building up to the Justice League film, and please keep up this pace.
While Wonder Woman isn't particularly well-explained, she's freaking Wonder Woman. Wonder Woman is one of DC's most popular superheroes. If you don't know who she is, welcome to modern pop-culture, my name is Alex Shannon, and we're reviewing a DC Comics movie today! Besides, Marvel got away with exactly the same thing when they introduced Black Widow and Hawkeye alike without giving them much background, and it worked out fine. At least until Age of Ultron rolled around.
All in all, I loved this film, just like I loved Man of Steel. Just like I loved The Dark Knight films. At this moment in time, I could not be more pumped to see the rest of the Justice League on the big-screen, or Suicide Squad for that matter. I was worried that DC was rushing into this too quickly, but if they keep this up they're looking at possibly out-doing the DC Television Universe, maybe even the Marvel Cinematic Universe! This is coming from a life-long, die hard Marvel fanboy too.
The pacing is amazing, the action is awesome and the costume design is just beautiful. I want to find an armored Batman figure because that suit is just so freaking cool!
The one issue I can find is that they've pulled out Jesse Eisenberg a little too early. Yes, he looks exactly like Lex Jr., but I wish they'd saved him for later, and maybe used Kevin Spacey as the current Luthor. Plus, it seems like his performance wavers wildly between a younger, more energetic Lex Luthor and a toned-down version of Jack Nickelson's Joker. I'll say this though, at least we actually got to see the eccentic, mastermind, paranoid billionaire Lex Luthor finally instead of the incredibly watered-down versions of the character we've seen in the past. With tighter direction of the character and Kevin Spacey, Luthor might have turned out a lot better. But that's not a big enough issue to bring the whole film down for me.
In the end, I give Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice a 10.0* rating.

Image from Impawards.com