r6ZueZjnmZ7B2W9HGZxNVvrBtMg BDVR: June 2016

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Sunday, June 26, 2016

Warcraft

To say video-game films have a bad-rap would be a major understatement. Ever since The Wizard and Super Mario Bros: The Movie, they have had a terrible track-record. The early-00's was an especially bad time, because Uwe Boll sunk his hooks into making game-movies for a while, and made things worse. Things got better, but then Adam Sandler made Pixels and brought things down again. The best game movies have probably been Sonic The Hedgehog: The Movie, the Tomb Raider films, and Wreck-It Ralph, and that last movie wasn't wholly-based on an existing game. Rather unfortunately, despite being brilliantly made, having a damn good story, and despite raising the bar for direct game adaptations, Warcraft still falls somewhat short of being great.
Let's get this out of the way straight off the bat. This is a gorgeous movie, and part of the reason I like it is because it's just so god-damn cool-looking!
I've never understood the idea of liking something based mainly on aesthetics until I saw this movie. Everything is just so freaking pretty. The costumes, the environments, the swords, the shields, the armor, the gear, the books, the sets, the fights, the effects, the makeup, the cinematography, the direction, the music. My god I just love to watch this film. Where some movies have unimpressive weapons, this film makes literally every single weapon look awesome, like you'd want to have it hanging on your wall. Even the Orc weapons that look like they were cobbled together from random crap are cool. The Horde armor and clothing looks really cool too, but the Alliance armor is freaking sweet, from the king, all the way down to the lowliest foot-soldier. If you want to watch something that will make you want to buy toys and/or props, this is the movie for you.
It's just a shame that the story isn't structured better. And it's a shame there are hardly any British accents in the movie. For as cool as The Alliance's gear and locations are, The Alliance characters are the weakest part of the movie. Part of that has to do with the fact that most of them just have American accents, and part of it has to do with the fact that we start about a movie too far into the story for any of the characters to be really compelling, which is a shame, because I want to care about them, since they've got the coolest gear and some awesome fights. They're not exactly the good guys in the story, but they're definitely the best-dressed.
The orcs side of the story is much more interesting, but unfortunately we're only privy to a very small portion of it. We're in yet another position where the lead-up to the story is more interesting than the story itself. Not that the story is bad, but it would benefit from being a sequel, not the first movie in the series. The orcs are fleeing their home planet to Azeroth. The portal is opened up with evil green magic powered by draining the life from living beings. Rather than being shown the origin of this magic and how the magician, Gul'dan became as he is, we are told later on in the movie. Rule #1 of storytelling: Show, don't tell. I suppose they must have cut the story down in all of the years of production, which I'll get to later on.
The Orc Horde spills over into Azeroth, and our Orc lead, Durotan's (Toby Kebbell) wife has a miscarriage, but Gul'dan brings the baby back to life at the expense of the life of a deer. I don't quite know what emotion this was supposed to elicit from us, but given the chance to sacrifice the life of a deer for a 100% chance to bring someone back to life, I'd take that chance. Anyone would. Snap decision. Unless it was someones pet, in which case no, but just a deer? In exchange for a child? I can't be expected to see that as some horrible act, any more than killing and eating the deer would be a horrible act in something like The Walking Dead. It's necessary for them to survive. For some reason though, the movies soundtrack expects me to see this as something horrible.
The orcs begin their raids, and the military of Stormwind Kingdom is taken by storm, and slaughtered. As they regroup, the commander, Anduin Lothar (Travis Femmel) finds an errant mage looking over the bodies of the fallen. The mage, Khadgar, (Ben Schnetzer) explains that he found traces of the evil Fel magic on the bodies. The mage persuades the king, Llane Wrynn to seek the help of the guardian of Tirisfal, Medvih (Ben Foster).
Lothar and Khadgar go see Medvih, who accompanies them and a scouting team tracing the remnants of Fel magic, and along the way they get ambushed by an orc party. They manage to fight them off and take a half-orc named Garona, who can speak both Human and Orc. Neither of which are English, btw.
They find out that the Orcs are planning to use all the people they've captured to bring The Horde into Azeroth at the expense of their lives.
Durotan deduces that Fel magic was responsible for the death of his world, and begins plotting against Gul'dan. He invites King Llane to a meeting to negotiate a truce, but Blackhand's Orcs ambush them, and Lothar's son is killed by the sheer incompetence of Medvih.
King Llane leads an attack on the Orc encampment, while Lothar and Khadgar deduce that Medvih must be aiding The Horde. Sure enough, he's possessed by a demon using Fel magic to aid The Horde. Lothar and Khadgar fight him and a clay golem to victory, and with the last of his life, Medvih closes the portal to Draenor and opens one to Stormwind, allowing Llane's men to retreat through with the prisoners, but not Llane himself and some of his soldiers. Lothar arrives too late to save anyone, but Llane orders Garona to kill him so she can try and take command of The Orcs herself with the honor his death would bring him. Lothar faces off with a Fel-roided Blackhand, and kills him with Llane's sword, leaving with the kings body on his griffin.
The races and governments of Azeroth form together to create The Alliance to combat The Horde, and Durotan's son is found by humans.
All in all, god-damn I wish this movie was better. I want to like this movie. I really freaking do. It doesn't exactly fall apart, more like it never really came together in the first place, and I can totally pinpoint why. This should have been Warcraft II, and there should have been another Warcraft movie ahead of it. Probably sometime last year, or two years ago. Hell, I'd say it should have been released back in 2012, it would have been amazing to see the start of this whole Warcraft story back in 2012. Then this movie could have been released in 2014 and a third Warcraft movie could have been out this year instead.
However, it's a god-damn pretty movie. I can't even get over that for a second no matter how much I try and focus on the issues with the story. I just love the swords so much. I love the armor, the environments, the effects, everything. This is such a polarizing movie for me, since on the one hand I love it for the aesthetics, and I love it for some parts of the story, but on the other hand I wish they'd bothered covering all of the lead-up to the events in this film. Plus, there are way too many American accents in this cast. King Llane is freaking British, and European accents are standards for fantasy settings. I'm not saying they should have put on bad accents if they couldn't put on good ones, I'm just saying they should have at least tried.
Then there's the fact that hardly anyone in this movie speaks with any kind of pomp and circumstance. The orcs do, Llane does, but Medvih, Lothar and Khadgar don't.
As far as accuracy to the games goes, I wouldn't really know beyond the fact that Gul'dan looks like something out of WoW. I've never beaten Warcraft: Orcs and Humans and I don't own any of the other games. I played quite a bit of World of Warcraft right after it went Free To Play, but I wasn't particularly impressed by it. Best I can tell you is that everything looks about right, and if it's not, who cares? It's a freaking gorgeous movie.
The worst I can say about the effects is that in the very first scene in the movie, the orcs look like they were stripped out of WoW and given a bunch of extra polygons and points of articulation in their skeletons. In fact, the first few minutes of the film have a generally strange air to them, as if they were using incomplete, under-polished animation and CGI. Thankfully it's solved immediately afterwards, but it's still off-putting.
In the end... I can't decide, really. I know I'm going to get it on Blu-Ray as soon as I possibly can, because I really want to see another Warcraft movie. Hell, I might even wind up re-installing Warcraft and playing it. I do love me some old-school RTS.
I guess I'm going to have to abstain from giving this film a score since I'm so conflicted about it. I'll be back again next week, hopefully I can give a more definitive review then. Probably either gonna be Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows or Senran Kagura 2: Deep Crimson.

Image from Impawards.com

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Dragon Ball Z: Extreme Butoden


There were two Dragon Ball games to come out last year, Xenoverse, and Extreme Butoden. As of this moment, I've only played the latter, and so far it's a bit of a disappointment, both as a tag-team fighting game and as a Dragon Ball game. Fair warning, if you're not a fan of Dragon Ball, you won't understand a word I'm saying here, so if you're interested, you should familiarize yourself with the comics, most likely available at your local library, book-store, or preferred internet retailer. They're really freaking good, so you should read them.
To start off, the roster is incredibly limited, both in comparison to that of the comics and of previous Dragon Ball games. Extreme Butoden boasts of having over one-hundred characters, but as of writing only twenty-six are playable, and all the others are assists, and none of them have any alternate costumes, meaning they're stuck in one set of attire throughout the entire game even during story-mode. None of the Saiyans have Super Saiyan 2, 3, or 4 forms playable, except for Gohan, who doesn't have Super Saiyan 1 playable. Gohan is stuck as Teen Gohan in his Frieza/Cell Saga gear during the Saiyan Saga, which makes him about five years too old. Vegeta only has Super Saiyan playable, despite Goku have Super Saiyan God and Super Saiyan God Super Saiyan forms in the game, and is stuck in the gear he wore in the latter part of the Frieza Saga and all of the Cell Saga, but for some reason, during cutscenes when he transforms into Ozaru, he's wearing the right armor, and during cutscenes set in the Buu Saga he's wearing his correct gear. Despite this, Majin Vegeta is unplayable. Speaking of Ozaru, there aren't Great Ape or Golden Ape transformations for any of the Saiyans, nor are they included as assist characters, despite Great Ape Vegeta showing up in a cutscene towards the end of the Saiyan Saga in-game. Future Trunks is stuck as a Super Saiyan, and there's no playable Kid Trunks period. Adult Gohan has Ultimate and Super Saiyan forms, but no base form or Great Saiyaman costume. Goku has his Dragon Ball Z gear, and his SSGSS form has his Resurrection F gear, but there's no King Kai gi, no Kame House gi, no Dragon Ball or Dragon Ball GT  gi, and he can't wear his Resurrection F gear in his base form. Speaking of which, Frieza is only playable in his final form. No first form, second, third, mecha, or golden form. His brother Cooler isn't playable, and their father, King Cold isn't even in the game. Their ancestor, Chilled isn't playable either. This brings us to Bardock, who doesn't have a Super Saiyan transformation period. Goku and Vegeta both god Super Saiyan transformations as part of their Ultimate Combos, but Bardock doesn't get one at all. Nappa and Raditz don't get any Super Saiyan transformation, and Bardock's other son, Turles isn't playable at all. Vegeta's brother, Tarbles isn't in the game at all. Nor is King Vegeta, or any of Bardock's squad. Dodoria and Zarbon are unplayable, and Zarbon's lizard form isn't in the game at all. The only member of The Ginyu Force that's playable is Ginyu himself, and all the others are assists, as are all of Frieza's other men that are even included in the game. Only Android 18, Lazuli is playable. Her brother, 17, AKA Lapis is an assist, as are Dr. Gero, Android 19, Fusion Android 13, Android 8, and Super 17. Imperfect Cell, Semi-Perfect Cell, and Cell Jr. are all assists, and Android 14, 15, and Hellfighter 17 aren't even in the game. The only Z-Fighters who are in the game are the ones I previously mentioned, so all the others are assists. The only playable fusion there is is Kid Gotenks, while Gogeta is stuck as an assist at SSJ4, while Vegito isn't in the game at all.
As you could tell, the rather anemic roster affects how the story plays out. Since Tien, Chiaotzu, Yajirobe and Yamcha aren't playable, you can't fight Nappa or Vegeta as them, despite their fights being rather pivotal, especially since Yajirobe's "fight" with Great Ape Vegeta saved Goku's life, and by extension, the whole planet.
Not only does the roster affect the plot, in that rather important events are told instead of shown, or in this case, fought, it also affects the amount of gameplay you get out of Story Mode, for self-evident reasons. Fans of Dragon Ball Z will be irritated by the way they butchered the story in the mandatory Dragon Team Saga.
Story-mode is split into a series of six simultaneous stories, with an additional seventh story that takes place after all of them unlocked once you're done, akin to Sonic Adventure. The difference is, Sonic Adventure wasn't trying to adapt any existing source-material, and each characters story more or less made sense both on its own and as a part of the whole. Yes, each of them would wind up contradicting the other, but in the long run it didn't matter, since you got the full picture of the story by the end of the game. You also had alternate levels to go through, alternate boss-fights, alternate approaches to existing ones, etc, while this game has, at most, two extra fights for every character in the game, so until you get to the "Bad Guys" saga, Story Mode is going to be incredibly repetitive. For one thing, Dragon Saga has all of the same major fights in it that the other subsequent Sagas do, except without some of the incredibly plot-sensitive or important fights, most of the establishing elements of the story, most of the defining moments in the series, and most of the Buu Saga. In other words, if you don't already know the plot of Dragon Ball Z, you won't know what the hell is going on. Even if you play through all six Sagas, so much of the story is missing that anyone experiencing the story for the first time will be left wondering what they missed.
The main issue I have outside of the general issue with the horribly abridged story is the sheerly linear nature of the game. No matter what you do, who you beat or how good you are, the game follows the story of Dragon Ball Z exactly. If you win fights characters lost in the story, then they lose in the story. If you lose fights characters lost in the story, you get a game-over. I'm sorry, I thought we'd moved past this in the '90s! WWF: No Mercy had branching storylines perfected back on the N64, and subsequent WWF/E games had branching storylines based on whether you won or lost fights as well. I love the Dragon Ball story, but I've been there and done that before in almost every DBZ game I've played, I want to see something different once and a while! I also don't want my accomplishments in the game to be meaningless in terms of story. Even if you beat Raditz in the first fight in the game, Goku still dies, and the story proceeds as normal. It's disappointing, since it means your actions have no affect on the game. All I want to see is a Dragon Ball game with branching storylines. They could make fights that the characters lost in the series to be super hard to beat, but if you did  manage to pass them, something different could happen. Or they could keep retelling the same old story with worse writing every time, it's their choice.
One of the rather bizarre choices out of the various Saga's is in the Vegeta Saga, which is not an alternate name for the Saiyan Saga, but the main story of Dragon Ball Z told from Vegeta's perspective. Towards the end of the Frieza Saga, Vegeta and Goku both are fighting Frieza as Super Saiyans, despite Vegeta being either dead or on Earth at any point during their fight, and not having broken through the Super Saiyan barrier at this point. This is a rather major issue considering it was a fairly huge plot-point of what it took for Vegeta to become a Super Saiyan. Goku being a Super Saiyan and Vegeta not being as powerful as he was was part of the reason he became a Super Saiyan in the first place. Just handing Vegeta a Super Saiyan transformation ruins part of what made him an interesting character. Did the people who wrote this know nothing about Dragon Ball lore? Did they never watch the show or read the comics? Did they just skip everything after the Frieza Saga? I want answers, dangit! This doesn't make a lick of freaking sense!
Then there's the "Bad Guys" Saga, where you play as all of the villains in a GT-style resurrection/revenge where all of the dead villains come back to fight the heroes. The rather odd thing is that towards the end, Goku's father, Bardock shows up and demolishes the villains, and then beats up on Goku for some reason. Despite the fact that Bardock was neither dead, nor a villain. Then at the end of the saga Beerus from Battle of the Gods shows up and beats up Super Saiyan God Goku.
Then there's Adventure Mode, listed as "Alternate Story" by the title-card, but it's really just the Bad Guys saga told from the perspective of Goku. You have to beat it to unlock Super Saiyan God Goku, which is funny since you can unlock SSGSS Goku before him by tapping in a code. Rather unfortunately, despite the Super Saiyan God being unlocked by beating this mode, you can't beat the final boss with it, so I wound up beating Beerus with SSGSS Goku instead. Ha.
After you beat that, anything resembling story-mode ends. Roll credits. No Resurrection F storyline, none of the movies aside from BoG are covered, despite movie-exclusive villains like Cooler, Meta Cooler, and Turles showing up, none of the specials or OVA's, like Bardock: Father of Goku, Episode of Bardock, Yo! Son Goku and his Friends Return (Which takes place right before Battle of Gods) are covered despite Bardock being playable, and despite the latter taking place right before certain events this game does cover. Both the Bad Guys Saga, and Adventure Mode seem like they took parts of Dragon Ball GT and mashed them together with parts of Battle of Gods.
Now that we've moved past the general failings of the story, let's move on to the writing and translation. They're both abysmal. Some characters, such as Ginyu in the screenshot to the left, speak in ways that they never did in the comics or the animated series. The fluff-text for the character-roster is the most bland, uninspired garbage I've ever seen, and the bridging dialogue between scenes is so passive that it doesn't even seem like it was written by the same person who wrote the dialogue. Despite it being inspired by Akira Toriyama's work, there's no way any of this was written by him. Everything is just so bland, and all of the characters have had their personality ironed out. There's none of the unique flavor that made Dragon Ball and Dragon Ball Z interesting. Everything reads in such a flat, uninspired way.
This brings us to the translation. There are times when it seems like the writing was affected more by the translator not knowing how a character speaks than the writer not knowing. It's hard to tell sometimes, but if you're familiar with roughshod Japanese to English translations, you can pick out some of the really lazy moments, like times when complicated sentiments are boiled down to "I'll never forgive you!" which is something of a stock-phrase in inaccurate translations. Overall, I'm just left to wonder why they didn't copy and past the script to the animated series or the comics into it for most of the game, since they clearly didn't have anyone on-hand who could write as well as Toriyama does. That could have worked for all versions of the game, the Japanese publisher could have pasted in the Japanese script, and the American publisher could have pasted in the English one, then all that would have had to be written or translated would be the Bad Guys saga and Adventure Mode. Or they could have created some more original content, either way.
Now we come to the gameplay, which is rather insultingly easy, at least during story-mode. Some fights can be finished in a few seconds, even when characters are unevenly matched. The screenshot to the left is from my fight with Vegeta during the Krillin Saga, right before I finished him off. Even though you can't see part of my health-bar, I've still got most of my health left, and I'm hitting Vegeta with a finishing-move. As Krillin. Anyone who knows Dragon Ball knows Krillin should not be able to do this, but he can. Partially because this Saga has to contrive incredible reasons for Krillin to win all of his fights, but he still gets killed by Frieza at the end of the Frieza Saga for some reason, despite kicking Cell's butt later in the game. The other part is that most of the enemies in the game, outside of Extreme Survival, can be stun-locked from a distance with ki-blasts. During Adventure Mode and Story Mode you can literally just stand around charging your ki while the enemy AI just stands around being confused, dashing about, occasionally throwing out a punch or two. This leaves you plenty of time to dash in, pull off a Meteor Combo (A combo that knocks your opponent into the air or onto the ground) and a finishing-move to knock off most of their health. Hell, sometimes they don't even have enough health left to survive to the end of a Meteor Combo. Once I got the hand of the controls, I never died except when I let an enemy knock my health down to half so I could try and activate my ultimate attack, just so I could see what they looked like for each character. If I had been playing to kill instead goofing off, I probably would have only died like once, at the very end of Story Mode. Part of the reason for this is that the AI is so stupid that it doesn't attack when you leave yourself open, and partially because they will always, always lose a beam-struggle conflict.
When you or your opponent fires off a finishing-move, if the one on the receiving end of the attack has 150% of their Ki Gauge filled, they can fire off a counter-attack by pressing A, initiating a beam-struggle. You win this struggle by tapping the A button over and over until you win. Yes, it's a Quick Time Event, except they don't actually tell you you need to repeatedly tap the A button, so it's not just a Quick Time Event, it's a Quick Time Event that they don't tell you is a Quick Time Event. This wound up getting me killed in a couple of online matches. Sure, it tells you that in initiates a button-tapping contest in the moves-list, but it doesn't tell you which button you need to press, and if you haven't looked at the moves list for some reason, then there's no way you'd know how to do that. Like I said, what's worse than a QTE? A QTE that the game doesn't tell you about.
After you finish Adventure Mode you unlock Extreme Tournament mode, which was featured in Adventure Mode for a sequence of the game. Rather unfortunately, it contradicts some of the events of both Adventure Mode and Story Mode. For one thing, in Adventure Mode, Krillin and Lazuli (Who's still referred to as Android 18 despite Toriyama having revealed her and her brothers names freaking years ago) are competing in the tournament separately so they can win two prizes. In Extreme Tournament Mode, they're competing together against the likes of Piccolo, Bardock, Perfect Cell, Frieza, the Ginyu Force, Raditz and Nappa, and Super Saiyan God Super Saiyan Goku. How they expected to take second and third place with competition like that is beyond me.
And then Broly shows up for some reason about halfway through the tournament to challenge Goku (At least I was playing as Goku because that's who you were supposed to be playing as in Adventure Mode) and if you were smart enough to pack your team with Super Saiyan Goku, SSG and SSGSS Goku, then you've got this in the bag. Then at the end, Beerus shows up, accompanied by regular old Goku and Vegeta for some reason, and if you don't know how to beat him, you're screwed, and you've got to start the whole tournament over again. Comparatively speaking, this mode is actually pretty hard if you don't know what you need to do to win. Extreme Survival is where the majority of the challenge will come from. It and the multiplayer are the only ways to accumulate Extreme Points to unlock Extreme powered-up versions of the characters. If you're only in this for the single-player, then this will do nothing for you, since it doesn't actually unlock anything you haven't already used. If you know how to handle the game, then you can beat Broly with Krillin. I'm not kidding, I actually pitted basic Krillin against Broly in a singles match and he freaking won. I've actually seen this happen before, I beat Vegeta with Yamcha in Super Dragon Ball Z once. I like this in concept, but all of the characters are ranked by "DP" (I assume that means Difficulty Points) and you wonder what those rankings even mean. Less DP means less HP, but if you're fast enough that doesn't matter. Plus, under most circumstances, the AI is so freaking stupid that they can't even hit you when you leave yourself open.
Next we move onto graphical and technical issues. When characters accumulate 200% of their Ki Guage (After total team HP has been reduced to at least 50% or less) they can activate a super ultimate attack which cannot be blocked and will cut through almost all of their opponents HP. Before the attack starts, a few frames of animation play of the character doing something for the camera. For some reason though, the portraits of the characters don't fill the entire screen, and in the case of Vegeta's picture to the left, has a white background, which makes it stand out significantly compared to the black borders. This is by far one of the strangest graphical issues I've seen in the game, since nothing else in the game aside from these portraits are pillar-boxed like this. This one portrait in particular seems like someone forgot to remove the white background before the game went gold. Seems like the kinda thing that the latest update would have fixed, but nope.
There's a big blue Z in the background on the mode selection-screen that looks like it was ripped from another Dragon Ball game and then poorly upscaled and recolored. Either that, or they ran over the top of it with a line-tool without anti-aliasing turned on. If you look close at it, it's got a lot of discoloration around the edges of the angles where the squared bleed over into the orange background. It looks ugly, and given a few minutes of time I could have come up with something that looks a lot more professional. The Jpeg compression in this picture doesn't help much, but Miiverse doesn't save screenshots in PNG format unfortunately.
Now we take a look at the touchscreen portraits for Goku. Around the right-hand side of his Gi in each picture, there's a jagged black outline that looks so freaking rough that it doesn't fit in with the rest of the picture. All of the other line transitions and outlines in the portraits are so much smoother that the outline of his Gi over his shirt. For instance, the outline of his shirt over his chest, or the outline of his hair on his head. I would love to know what happened that caused these portraits to turn out like this, because I can't think of a reason other than someone screwed up and forgot to clean up some lines before the game went gold, or else didn't have the time to. The portrait of Krillin above shares the same issues, but there are portraits that don't, such as the standard one for Vegeta, or the SSGSS portrait of Goku.
Now we come to the options menu. As I've stated before, the game is a bit too easy, so what did I do? I cranked it up to Hard to try and get more of a challenge out of it. It barely had any affect.
You can also change match duration and button-mapping if you wish, but there's one rather critical option missing. Audio. While all the text in the game is in English, all of the voices are in Japanese. Rather odd, considering all the previous games that have been released in America have had the Funimation cast as an option at least, in this game you're stuck with the Japanese cast no matter what, and most of them are either utterly unsuited to their roles or just plain bad. A quick example would be how Goku, Gohan, Turles, Goten, and Bardock are all voiced by the same woman, Masako Nozawa, even as adults. This leads to fights between these characters where you can barely tell the characters voices apart. Then there's Krillin, who shares a voice-actress with his wife, Android 18. You can tell them apart, but Krillin's voice is still too high, even for someone as small as he is. It's a rather bizarre choice, since there are plenty of Dragon Ball fans, such as myself, who despise the Japanese cast of Dragon Ball Z.
The rather odd thing is that despite having the Japanese cast, half the score sounds like it was composed by Zard and The Field of View (Composers and performers of the Dragon Ball GT theme song) and the other half sounds like it was composed by Bruce Faulconer, the Funimation dub composer. The upside is that we don't wind up with any of the really horrible tracks from the Japanese version, like the Super Saiyan transformation song, or the first ED. The downside is there's no Cha La Head Cha La, no Hikari no Willpower, no Solid State Scouter, no We Gotta Power, and no We Were Angels. The music in the game is perfectly fine, but there's nothing particularly iconic about it, nothing that particularly screams Dragon Ball Z.
This brings me to another technical issue. The voice-clips during combat have sample-rates lower than that of the music, which appears to be about CD-quality. The clips that play during cutscenes are of the same quality as the music, as are the sound-effects that play during battle, but the voice-clips almost sound like they were ripped from a GBA or early DS game for all their low-quality.
All in all, while this isn't a particularly bad game by any means, there are certainly better Dragon Ball games to choose from. Pick up any of the DBZ games on DS over this, or better yet, just pick up Dragon Ball Z: Budokai Tenkaichi 2. It's got the English voice-cast, the iconic Faulconer score, and it doesn't skip around like this game does.
In the end, this game is pretty mediocre. I give it a 4.9* rating. Sorry this is a little late, I've been stretched thin lately, and I've had a lot on my plate. Next week should be Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows or Warcraft.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

X-Men Apocalypse

We seem to have yet another Batman v Superman case on our hands, an incredibly polarizing film that shakes up the dynamics of the universe, hated by some critics and beloved by others, packed with action, character, and awesome moments. The difference is that the sides aren't even switched around, they're just mixed up this time, with people who liked and hated BvS alike have been taking the same sides on this film.
As someone who really, really  liked Dawn of Justice, this film was brilliant. It's just a shame it's not out-selling the far inferior Captain America: Civil War. Yes, I'll go that far. Between this film and Deadpool, Fox has had a much better showing this year than Marvel has, at least in the theaters. Season two of Daredevil was awesome, and while The Punisher, Luke Cage, the second season of Jessica Jones, and Doctor Strange might make up for its failings later in the year, at the moment it's not looking too good for Marvel's main stuff.
X-Men Apocalypse takes place in the 1980's with the cast of First Class, with a few members of the classic X-Men and characters made famous by the 90's animated-series added in for good measure. We've got Jean Grey, Cyclops, Jubilee, Angel, Nightcrawler, Storm, Psylocke, and probably others in the background. Jubilee doesn't really do much, which is a shame, but I'm glad she's finally something more than a background character. Angel also plays a much more critical role in this movie than he did in X3, as anyone who knows the Apocalypse storyline would know. Nightcrawler actually sticks around for the whole movie, which is longer than he was in X2 for, the one thing I really didn't like about that film. Returning from previous post-First Class films are Mystique, Charles Xavier, Magneto, Havoc, Beast, Wolverine, and my personal favorite, Quicksilver!
X-Men fans will basically know how this movie goes, but for those who don't know the comics or the animated series very well, spoilers inbound. Yes, I know I already said that Wolverine is in this movie, but it's an X-Men film, Wolverine has been in every X-Men film to date in some respect, he was even in Deadpool in spirit.
So, after head-trauma, Scott Summers' (Played by Tye Sheridan) mutant powers manifest in a much less overpowered, yet incredibly similar way to the way they emerged in X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Due to the way they changed the past in X-Men: Days of Future Past, Scott is not abducted by the people behind the Weapon X program and is instead taken by his brother, Alex Summers (Played by Lucas Till, looking the most like Matt Smith he ever has) to the Xavier mansion to get his signature ruby-quartz sunglasses, made by Hank McCoy (Played by Nicholas Hoult), which prevent his eye-beams from wreaking havoc like they do. At the mansion he meets Jean Grey (Played by Sophie Turner) Jubilation Lee (Lana Condor) and Charles Xavier. (James McAvoy) Scott stays at the mansion and befriends others there, and Jean gets a vision of an apocalypse that's coming their way.
Meanwhile, Raven Darkhölme, AKA Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) is traveling around the world saving mutants. She rescues Kurt Wagner, AKA Knightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee) from a cage-fight in East Berlin with Warren Worthington III, AKA Angel (Ben Hardy). Raven takes him to a weird guy named Caliban to get him to Xavier, but Caliban informs her that Erik Lensherr (Michael Fassbender), has been located in Poland after the army there killed his wife and daughter, and he killed all of them. This prompts Raven to go with Kurt to the states to inform Xavier of this.
Xavier looks in on a few people using Cerebro, and finds that Moira McTaggert has discovered something related the seismic events that coincided with Jean's nightmares.
Once in the states, Raven meets the new students, and Nightcrawler befriends Jean, Jubilee and Scott, and they go out to see Return of the Jedi together while Xavier and Alex go to Washington to talk to Moira about what they've found, and to undo the memory-erasure that Xavier used on her in First Class. They bring her back to the mansion so she can help him locate the mutant who is the source of the activity, and try and convince Magneto to rejoin them. This leads to Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac) taking control of Xavier's mind, and using Cerebro to find the worlds most powerful mutants. This comes a bit late, since he's already recruited a pair of the worlds less powerful mutants to his team, Angel and Psylocke (Olivia Munn) that consists of them and Ororo Munro, AKA Storm, (Alexandra Shipp) and Magneto. Magneto is War, and Archangel is Death, but we're never told which of the remaining two are Pestilence or Famine. Not that this really matters, because I'm sure Storm could handle both of those roles.
Havoc destroys Cerebro, but Apocalypse shows up to kidnap Xavier so he can use him to disarm the worlds nuclear weapons and send a message to the world. Havoc tries to prevent that from happening, but Apocalypse redirects the waves and they begin to destroy the mansion, but Quicksilver shows up in one of the best scenes in the freaking movie and rescues everyone before the mansion is destroyed, save for Havok, who was at the epicenter of the blast.
Colonel Stryker shows up at the mansion and knocks out everyone, and kidnaps Hank, Raven, Peter and Moira, but Kurt, Scott and Jean evade them and stow away on a helicopter to get to the base where Stryker is keeping Wolverine (Hugh freaking Jackman man). They free Wolverine, and he helps them free Hank, Raven, Peter and Moira. Jean helps him get some of his memories back, and he runs off into the snow.
Meanwhile, Xavier is made to disarm all the worlds nukes, and Magneto begins messing with the earths magnetic fields to cause widespread destruction and to build a new infrastructure at Apocalypse's behest. Meanwhile Apocalypse is trying to transfer his consciousness into Xavier's body so he can get his powers, but the X-Men have hijacked one of Strykers drop-jets and made their way to his location, and they begin to do battle with Apocalypse and The Horsemen. Eventually they stop Apocalypse from merging with Xavier, and thanks to intervention from Magneto and Storm, the team manages to beat Apocalypse.
Xavier, now bald thanks to his interaction with Apocalypse, begins to officially form The X-Men, and Mystique trains students in combat in The Danger Room.
All in all, hell yes. Amazing. Can't really see how it could be improved much. Granted Alexandra Shipp's Storm voice sounds nothing like it has at any point in the past, and McAvoy's head isn't shaped exactly like Patrick Stewart's head is, but he still looks more like Stewart than Tom Hardy did in Star Trek: Nemesis. The plot flows well, and god-dammit do I love the Quicksilver scene in this film, just like I loved the Quicksilver scene in Days of Future Past. Peter Maximoff is turning out to be one of my favorite characters in this series, and I can't wait to see him in another film.
In the end, I give it a 9.9* rating. I'll see you guys next week with either Deadpool, or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows!

Image from Impawards.com

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Odin Sphere Leifthrasir for PSVita (Nathan Green)


I’m a sucker for JRPG’s, ever since I got into them I’ve found something truly entrancing about them. Mind you my love of JRPG’s only really came to fruition a few years ago which meant that many JRPG’s have managed to slip under my radar for whatever reason, maybe they were too obscure or never got a European release. Whatever the reason, I missed out on them.
One of these games was Odin Sphere, which was originally released on the PS2 back in 2007 in America and 2008 in Europe and Oceania. I would have been around nine at the time which is probably why the game completely slipped by me, well that and the fact that my family had only just got our hands on a Wii but that's besides the point.
So now, less than ten years after the release of the original we have an updated HD remake entitled Odin Sphere Leifthrasir, and trust me, this game has given me a lot of stuff to talk about so with that being said, lets start.

Story:

The story is... interesting to say the least. Honestly the interesting part isn’t the story itself but rather how the story is told.
You see, Odin Sphere is split up into multiple “books”. Each book represents a different characters campaign. While each character is going through the same overall story each characters stories will be told from their perspective and fill in blanks that might be present from other characters stories.

It’s an interesting way of telling the games narrative and honestly I think it works quite well. The game provides you with a special chart to show specifically where certain events happen in the timeline and also where certain characters events overlap. Each character will go on their own adventure but the things that occur in those stories all are important in the large overarching plot.

It’s a clever system for telling the story and one I don’t think I have really seen before in a game. Problem is because of this system it makes talking about the story itself a bit difficult if you haven’t played through the whole game.
What I can say though is that the story itself borrows elements from Norse Mythology and also feels a little Shakespearean in how it is told (heck there are scenes where characters get a spotlight shone on them making it look like a stage-play and everything).

So while I can’t say too much about the story I can say the way it is told is extremely creative. That's all I can really say without getting into spoiler territory.









Gameplay:

Now this is where things get interesting. Odin sphere isn’t a JRPG in the classical sense of the term. In fact the gameplay is completely different to what I expected.
You see, Odin Sphere plays a bit like a side scrolling beat-em-up. No I am not kidding. Let me explain.
Odin Sphere plays out entirely on a 2D plane. You run about in 2D and you fight in 2D. Dungeons contain three types of rooms: battle rooms, rest areas and normal rooms.

Battle Areas are just as they sound, you enter the area and a battle commences. This is where the 2D fighter gameplay starts bleeding in.
Combat heavily revolves around chaining together attacks which is a very simple and smooth affair. You only have one attack button which gives you a basic three hit combo as well as the ability to juggle enemies when coupled with pressing up on the D-pad but really that is all you need. The combat is incredibly smooth and fluid and despite the fact that I am a total idiot at fighting games I found myself getting the hang of chaining together attacks and pulling off flashy combos quite quickly.-
With Odin Sphere, I always felt like I was in control while fighting, inputs were responsive, combos weren’t a pain in the backside to pull off and skills were simple to pull off but effective at the same time.
Speaking of skills they come in two types, Passive and Active. Passive skills are always active while active skills require toggling using either a button combo or the skills menu (which can be accessed at any time during battle with the L button).

Now the skills menu is nice to have but I find it a bit of a pace breaker. Combat is quite fast and frantic and having the game pause while you pick a skill is a bit offputting.
However thanks to a wonderful thing called shortcuts this isn’t really a problem. In the skills menu you are allowed to assign skills to a surprising amount of button combinations. You have basic combinations of pushing a direction and circle at the same time but if you so desire you can pull skills off Street Fighter style by setting advanced button combos. I really like this feature. It allows players to set shortcuts in a way that they can handle. New players can use the simple shortcuts while other players (like myself) can map skills in a more advanced way. Really there is just something so satisfying about pulling off a skill through the use of a good old quater circle attack motion.
There are two different meters that a skill can deplete. The POW gauge and SP. Skills that deplete POW are able to be used more often as the POW gauge recovers by itself over time. SP skills however require SP and actually replenishing SP can only be done through the use of an item or by picking up Phozons (these little purple crystal things that replenish your SP and are the way you upgrade your skills).



Now some might call me a bit of a skill spammer but I found myself running out of SP A LOT during the early game. This is probably why I find myself using POW skills more as the POW gauge recharges by itself over time. It’s a minor nitpick but it would have been nice if they had reduced the SP cost for SP skills just a tiny bit.

The important thing to note about battle areas is how they are shaped. You see, Odin Sphere does something interesting with its dungeon design. Rooms come in two flavours, vertical/horizontal and cylindrical. Yes, cylindrical. This is how battle rooms are shaped and honestly, in practise it is a really clever idea.
The thing with these rooms is that because they are shaped in a circle you will well... keep running around the circle. This means that you don’t run the risk of off screening yourself while in a battle area and that is a total godsend in my opinion.
It also means that the camera is almost always placed sensibly in battle rooms so you can see what is going on. It’s simple but incredibly useful.

The other type of room is the vertical/horizontal room. These are just as they sound, nothing really too fancy about them. Sometimes they have enemies in them but most of the time they are just connectors between battle areas.
However these rooms are usually where you will find secrets. You see, Odin Sphere has an interesting system when it comes to learning skills. You don’t learn them as you level up, rather you learn them when you find special Phozon Prisims hidden around the place.
Sometimes you’ll get a prism for finishing a certain battle area but usually you will find them in hidden rooms not displayed on the map.
This really adds a bit of Metroidvania to Odin Sphere's gameplay which is something I really REALLY like. I’ve always liked Metroidvania games and adding a dash of that into Odin Sphere just makes it all the more fun for me.

Finally we have rest areas. These are just as they sound, areas where you can rest. Here you will find a store, item box (yes you do have a limit to how much you can carry in your bag), touring restaurant, checkpoint/warp point and a few other things.
This is probably a good time to get into some of the other mechanics that Odin Sphere has. Firstly we have the alchemy system. In a nutshell this allows you to combine certain items from your inventory and create potions. To do this however you require special empty vials called material (yeah I dunno why they’re called that either). You can them combine material with items you have picked up to create potions. The most useful of these items would be the mandragoras which are basically vegetables with legs. These guys are found in the ground and upon walking over one that is hidden you’ll hear a little squeak sound. Once you get them out of the group you just need to give them a little wallop with whatever weapon you are holding and then you can pick them up.

Mandragora’s can be used to create the more useful potions, namely healing potions, antidotes and potions that can be used to hurt enemies when thrown.
As you continue through the game you’ll pick up scrolls with new recipes on how to fuse different potions. However you don’t require these scrolls to make the item found on them which is nice.
The alchemy system is one of the systems you will be using the most due to how useful it is. Alchemy can be performed anywhere, even in the heat of battle and you can take as much time as you want because the game pauses itself when you open the items menu.

The other system you will most likely be using a lot is the planting system. You can plant seeds that you find and when given phozons they will produce fruit. The useful thing about this fruit is that when eaten it not only gives you experience points but it also boosts a few of your stats a bit. If you want to survive in this game you are going to want to make use of this system. All food in Odin Sphere is like this with it giving you EXP boosts, stat boosts and other things when eaten. The nice thing about this is that it basically removes the need to grind entirely. This is also where the touring restaurant comes in as with the right ingredients you can make some dishes that boost your exp a TON.

Now these aren’t the only mechanics in Odin Sphere (trust me there are quite a few) but these are really the two main ones that you will be using the most often. The other mechanics are just fine but you simply won’t be using them as often as the two mechanics I just mentioned.

Odin Sphere also sports excellent controls. They feel great, incredibly natural and I always feel like I’m in control.

Overall I find that the gameplay of Odin Sphere is by far one of its strongest aspects. It’s fast paced, smooth and most importantly, fun.

Graphics and Sound:

I’m just going to say it right now, Odin Sphere looks and sounds fan-flipping-tastic. Seriously, this is one of the best looking games I think I have ever played.
Multiple times I was left simply gawking at my Vita for a minute or two just from how eye poppingly beautiful the game looked. This is partially due to the multi layered backgrounds which are all so detailed and have tons of stuff going on in them. From leaves blowing past to spurts of lava, there is always something going on in the backgrounds and it looks stunning.
The foregrounds have a lot going on too with more little details scattered all around that just make the game look stunning. To top it off the character and enemy art is top notch, it looks amazing and is extremely detailed and very well animated.
In fact, not only does Odin Sphere look amazing but it also is smooth as butter both animation wise and performance wise.

Animation wise everything is incredibly smooth and slick. The animation is spot on with no jagged edges or odd frames. What makes this smooth animation even better though is the games performance. Odin Sphere runs at a consistent rock solid 60 frames per second and coupling that with the animation and art it makes for the most beautiful game I think I have ever seen on my PlayStation Vita.

If you’re like me and own an OLED Vita then you’re in for an extra treat as well. The OLED screen really makes the games colours pop and it looks all the more amazing because of it.

Not only does the game look pretty however but it sounds excellent as well. This is one of those games where I would highly HIGHLY recommend that you use headphones because using the Vita's speakers would be doing this games soundtrack a horrible disservice.
The soundtrack to Odin Sphere is amazing, heck even the developers know it’s amazing because they slap the logo of the group who composed the music among the company splash screens.

Coupling the music and the graphics really makes Odin Sphere come alive in a whole new way. The music and graphics fit the setting so well and it makes the world of Odin Sphere really pop. Really no amount of praise can do this game justice when it comes to how well it is presented and I highly recommend you experience it for yourself (which you can do at the time of this review by downloading the demo off the PlayStation store).

Verdict:

Going into Odin Sphere I didn’t quite have much of an idea on what to expect but what I got was a game that was not only beautiful to look at but great fun to play as well. The game is full of things to do, secrets to find and areas to explore and the amazing presentation makes it a visual and audio pleasure to play. The game also plays amazingly on the Vita giving a lag free experience which just makes the game all the more enjoyable.

If you enjoy JRPG’s and are looking for something unique and enjoyable then give Odin Sphere a look. If you already played the original on PS2 then pick this remake up anyway because it tweaks and fixes all of the problems that the PS2 version had to make this version of the game the definitive experience.

Odin Sphere Leifthrasir gets a Highly Recommended

The Vita is certainly getting a lot of love this year with all these titles coming out and I’m sure I’ll be back with another review soon but for now this is BDVR Guest author Nathan Green signing off.

Odin Sphere Leifthrasir will be releasing on June 7th in North America and on June 24th in Europe for PlayStation Vita, PlayStation 3 and PlayStation 4.

PEGI: 12

ESRB: T

CERO: B

OFLC: PG (Unrestricted, Estimated Rating)

Game and cover image provided by Atlus.