Wednesday, November 23, 2016

A Spotlight on Asian Epics

Most of the studies on folklore focus on European literature. But just as rich are Asian tales of deities, monsters and heroes. Let’s take a look at some of these.

The most well-known are the Epic of Gilgamesh which has two versions in Sumerian and Akkadian; Mahabharata by Veda Vyasa; the Persian epic Shahnameh by Ferdowsi; and Ramayana by Valmiki. Ramayana has different versions in the region including the Burmese version Yama Zatdaw, the Malay Hikayat Seri Rama, the Javanese Kakawin Ramayana and the Cambodian version Reamker.

To document all the epics of Asia would fill a book. I’ve picked some examples from each country below.

The Book of Dede Korkut is an epic of the Oghuz Turks or Turkomans. It is made up of twelve legends. The first story is about Boghach Khan, while the twelfth narrates the rebellion of the Outer Oghuz. Dede Korkut is supposed to be the narrator of these tales.

The Epic of King Gesar, is the epic cycle of the culture hero Gesar of the kingdom of Ling. The story is told in Tibet, Central Asia and Mongolia. His stories in Tibet are known as Drung. Gesar defeated the demons that surrounded his kingdom. Some believe that he is a manifestation of Padmasambhava.

The Epic of Manas is a trilogy of the Kyrgyz about the hero Manas and his descendants Seytek and Semetey. They fought to unite the different tribes of the Kyrgyz people against the Khitan and Oirat.

Hei An Zhuan or The Epic of Darkness is a compilation of stories from the Chinese Tang Dynasty. It is composed of eight manuscripts (at least those that have survived today). The tales include the creation of the universe, the world, and the humans. It was first compiled by Hu Chongjun.

Heike Monogatari or The Tale of the Heike is a Japanese account of the struggle between the Taira and Minamoto clans. The stories from the epic is compiled from different oral stories. The monks chanted these stories to the accompaniment of a biwa.

Hikayat Hang Tuah is a Malay epic of the warrior Hang Tuah and his four warrior friends Hang Jebat, Hang Kasturi, Hang Lekir, and Hang Lekiu. Hang Tuah was a servant of the sultan and rose to a prominent position at the end of the epic.

Jewang Ungi by Yi Seung-hyu chronicles the history of Korea from Dangun to King Chungnyeol. Jewang Ungi means Songs of Emperors and Kings or Rhymed Chronicles of Emperors and Kings.

The Jangar Epic (or Janggar) of the Kalmyk people is about the hero Khan Jangar and his twelve warrior companions. This epic is told by chanters called Jangarqi throughout Mongolia, Russia and China. There are a lot of tales related to Jangar are collectively called an epic cycle.

Kutune Shirka is an epic of the Ainu. In Japanese it’s called Itadorimaru no Kyoku. The epic is about the protagonist who wields the magic sword kutune shirka from which the title of the epic is taken. He begins his adventure by catching a golden sea otter who had a bounty on its head. Kutune Shirka is a part of the yukar, the Ainu sagas.

Olaging or Ulahingan of the Manobo, a tribe in the Philippines, is one of the many Lumad epics in Mindanao. The epic has different versions and titles in other tribes related to the Manobo. It tells the story of the hero Agyu and his family. It’s a mythical historical account of the tribe’s conflicts and warfare. There are many more epics among the Lumad, ethnic tribes in Mindanao, besides Olaging.

Panji Cycle of East Java, Indonesia has different versions and is called by different names.  It is part of a genre of shadow puppetry called wayang gedog. Panji Asmarabangun was supposed to marry the princess Candra Kirana who disappeared before the wedding. His search took him to four kingdoms and encountered many adversaries.

Phra Aphai Mani by Sunthorn Phu is an epic of Thailand. It is about Prince Aphai Mani’s love adventures. At first, he and his brother Sisuwan were sent away by their father to learn, but they came back disappointing him so they left again. He fell in love with four women (The Mermaid, Princess Suvarnamali, Princess Laweng and the Sea Giantess).

Sang Sinxay is a Lao epic by Pang Kham. Sinxay is the son of King Koutsaraj and the youngest daughter of the merchant Sethi. He is the twin of Sangthong, a golden snail. They were exiled by their father along with their half sibling from the eldest daughter of Sethi because they were monsters. In spite of that, they enlisted Sinxay’s help in the search for Soumantha, sister of Koutsaraj.

Sureq Galigo is an epic creation myth of the Bugis of South Sulawesi. It became well-known when it was adapted into a stage production I La Galigo. The lead characters of the story are siblings Sawerigading and We Tenriabeng.

Taghribat Bani Hilal or Sirat Abou Zeid Al Hilali is an Arabic epic of Banu Hilal’s journey from Najd to Tunisia. It was inspired by historical events based on Tunisia’s breaking away from the Fatimid Empire.

Thao Hung or Cheuang is a Lao epic, which has versions in both Lao and Northern Thai, tells about Thao Hung and the struggle of the Lao against the Dai Viet. He was a son of Khun Chomtham of the Suantan (Nakhong Kingdom). In the Northern Thai version his name is Thutiyawangsamalini or Phraya Cheung.

Truyện Kiều or The Tale of Kieu is a Vietnamese epic by Nguyen Du. It was based on the Chinese novel Kim Van Kieu. It’s about the life of Thuy Kieu who had to become a prostitute to save her father. Her sad life reflects the cruel society she lived in. Note that she is one of the four female lead characters of an epic included in this list.

The Five Great Epics of Tamil are the Cilappatikāram by Ilango Adigal, Manimekalai by Sithalai Sattanar, Cīvaka Cintāmaṇi by Tirutakkatevar, Valayapathi, and Kuṇṭalakēci by Naguthanar. Cilappatikāram is about Kannagi, Manimekalai is taken from the name of the lead character and Cīvaka Cintāmaṇi tells the story of Jivakan. All three are women. Valayapathi and Kuṇṭalakēci were named after their authors.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag



Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
Publisher: Ubisoft


Edward Kenway disguises as Duncan Walpole and meets the Templars who are looking for the Sage. The Templars use the excuse of cleaning out of pirates in the Caribbean while they search.


Research cubicle at Abstergo Entertainment


The Story

Edward Kenway woke up to discover that he was shipwrecked near an island and that another survivor, the assassin they faced earlier, was with him. He claims that he needs to get to Havana and tried to negotiate with Edward. The assassin runs off and Edward chases the guy, later discovered to be Duncan Walpole. Edward kills Walpole then decided to take the latter’s place and meet the Templars at Havana. Walpole was a rogue Assassin working for the Templars.

Edward wasn’t aware however that the Assassins were also watching him. They knew about Walpole’s deceit but the Order was put in danger because of Edward’s involvement. He learns that the Templars were looking for the Sage and that they were only using the pretense of eradicating the pirates in Caribbean to aid the search.

As the piracy in the Caribbean grows to unprecedented levels, the pirate leaders want to establish a so-called Republic of Pirates that answer neither to the British nor the Spanish. Havana was largely controlled by the Spanish, Kingston by the British, while Nassau was influenced by the pirates.

The game features historical figures like Edward “Blackbeard” Thatch, Jack Rackham, Anne Bonny, Benjamin Hornigold and Charles Vane.


Adewale and Edward. Adewala was rescued by Edward early in the game.

Look at that view.

Edward explores the wonders of the sea.


The Gameplay

In the modern world, the player controls a new employee of Abstergo Entertainment. The employee is a research analyst. The player learns that the Animus is no longer needed to relive genetic memories.

While in the Animus, the player controls the father of Haytham Kenway and the grandfather of Ratonhnhaké:ton or Connor Kenway, Edward Kenway. Edward’s exploits is set in the 18th century Golden Age of Piracy in the Caribbean. Edward visits Havana, Kingston and Nassau.

Miscellaneous activities include hunting, harpooning, capturing forts, upgrading the hideout, completing naval contracts, collecting all the memories found throughout the office of Abstergo, crafting, trading, fighting ships, exploring shipwrecks, upgrading the Jackdaw and recruiting men, visiting taverns, playing board games, hunting Templars and looking for treasures. The treasures can be found in various locations on the map from sandbanks to villages.

The viewpoints serve as fast-travel locations. Once you synchronize, all the available items and missions are shown on the map. Additional weapons, more types of guns and swords are available. My favorite is the blowpipe. Combat-wise auto-aim is no longer used. Dual-wielding is also possible.

One of the best features of the game are the naval combats. Nearly half the game is spent on the waters. You can board and take ships. You can also choose to add them to your fleet, Edward’s Fleet if you don’t want them destroyed. The ship is upgraded by collecting items and accomplishing missions. The player can use the spyglass to examine a ship or an island. The ship now has more options for combat than in Assassin’s Creed III.

A notoriety system is also employed in the naval adventures much like when you walk around town when you’re wanted. Weather patterns also affect naval combat.


From Left: Jack Rackham, Adewale, Edward, Blackbeard and a crew

Guess who?


I’ve never had so much fun exploring since Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood. There were so many things to do and to discover. The naval combats alone took so much of my time. I didn’t even want to fast-travel because that would take away the enjoyment of fighting and boarding ships. This is the kind of game that could get addictive once you discover how fun it was to be a pirate.

I also enjoyed all the other features of the game like the side missions and collectibles. I easily spent more hours on side missions alone than continuing the main missions. I love that I was able to explore underwater too. The only thing I didn’t like was whaling. I’m not against the idea of introducing the activity in the game, after all it’s still happening today, unfortunately. I tried it once and never bothered again. I just don’t like the activity itself. If showing the player how cruel whaling was was one of their objectives, then it has served its purpose because it had that effect on me. I chose to purchase the needed items instead of obtaining them myself. I’m also a bit uneasy about hunting land animals so sometimes I bought supplies from shops when I needed them.

There were a lot of weapons to choose from, although I enjoyed naval combats more than fighting other characters.

The naval combats were the best part of the game. They were so fun that they were addictive. There was a whole week when I didn’t continue with the main missions because I’d rather go pirating.

And who could ignore the quality of the animation? They were able to capture the feeling whenever you’re near the water. On bright days, the water seemed hot to my eyes. They were even able to capture how the sunlight reflects on the water from different angles.

I was a lot more excited about the story unfolding in the modern world. Granted, the lives of pirates was interesting but I’m still heartbroken with Desmond’s death in AC III. I wanted to know what happened to his companions and his father. Plus hacking Abstergo’s files were fun. I enjoyed the puzzles a lot and being able to learn something more about Desmond also made me happy.

Edward was a fun character but he lacked that tragic aspect that made Ezio and Connor much easier to like.

What else can I say? I enjoyed this game immensely. That’s what really matters after all. It may have been lacking in the story but there were so many things I could do.

Rating: 9 out of 10

Monday, November 14, 2016

Ajin



Nagai Kei only hears about the Ajin in the news and during discussions in his biology class although they have been known to exist for 17 years since they were discovered in Africa. Considered dangerous because they cannot be killed easily, Kei develops a fear for them when he learned from his class teacher that Ajin are not human. He feels horrified at learning they were used for experiments.

In a freak accident while on his way home, Kei is hit by a truck. With a lot of eyewitnesses present, Kei realizes he wasn’t killed. He recovers fast, still covered in blood, and stands up to look at the people on the sidewalk. He announces to them that he isn’t an Ajin and runs away after stunning the audience with a scream.


Kei just before he was hit by a truck.

Kei is pursued by authorities. Who will he turn to for help?


Kei becomes the third Ajin to be discovered in Japan. A manhunt ensues led by the law enforcement and Tosaki Yuu, a government official of the Ministry of Health.

In this 13-episode series, Kei grapples with the dilemma that he isn’t human after all. No one in the world would be willing to help him. But is an Ajin really not human?


Tosaki Yuu and his assistant

Satou


This type of series has been done before. Although not visually stunning, Ajin far surpasses both Tokyo Ghoul and Kiseijuu: Sei no Kakuritsu (Parasyte) when it comes to story-telling. It’s easier to like Kei than the protagonists of those two series mentioned. Kei isn’t overly emotional and is in fact cold and detached most of the time. That is also his strength, plus he’s a smart boy. There are no emotional strings to tie him down so his point of view doesn’t come with teenage issues about love and growing up and all that brouhaha. What’s even greater is that he doesn’t appear to have a love interest. That makes you wonder if being an Ajin comes with those qualities.

The 13-episode series didn’t give exact details about what an Ajin really is and what were the limits of Kei’s abilities. But in leaving some of the mystery unanswered it was able to focus on another important aspect of the story, something that Tokyo Ghoul wasn’t able to do---examine the psychological and emotional transformation of the character without overdoing it with theatric displays of anguish. Tokyo Ghoul only managed to isolate its lead character. A detached troubled being who doesn’t arouse any emotional sympathy because he was concerned only with his own hurts. Ajin brought down Kei to a more human level because he was able to speak to the audience through his fears, his weaknesses and his strengths. He was superhuman but he was still human.

The supporting cast is solid. Satou, another Ajin, was the most interesting of all. His motivations, which I will not spoil here, also examines an aspect ignored by the two series I mentioned---its effect on the society. The sequence of the action scenes were pretty exciting despite the quality of the animation.

If the animation alone is the problem and the reason to ignore this series, then you’re ignoring the best half of the series. The story more than makes up for the mediocre graphics. Besides, I’ve seen dozens of series with great animation but trashy stories and they don’t really make any difference overall. By the time I was engrossed with Ajin, the animation didn’t bother me anymore.

As an added bonus, Kei was voiced by Miyano Mamoru and the ending song was sung by him. Sometimes Kei reminds me of Light Yagami from Death Note. It’s only appropriate that both characters have the same voice actor. That should be enough to make you watch, right?


Rating: 9 out of 10

Perdido Street Station by China Mieville

Isaac Dan der Grimnebulin found a new exciting project when a Garuda named Yagharek asked him to make him fly again.

Isaac asked his friend Lemuel Pigeon to get word across the criminal underworld that he needed samples of species that can fly. It didn’t matter what it looked like.

Meanwhile, his girlfriend Lin, a khepri, was commissioned by a Mr. Motley to make a sculpture of his likeness. Lin was terrified when she got a good look at her new patron. Isaac doesn’t know about it and Lin was ignorant of Isaac’s research. Isaac unknowingly unleashed a terror in the city unheard of before. His rush to recapture an escaped specimen unearthed the city’s dirty secrets including sentient beings from unlikely places.



Set in the city of New Crobuzon, Perdido Street Station is the first of the three novels set in Bas-Lag. In Bas-Lag, thaumaturgy and steampunk technology exist side by side. It has blurred the lines of different genres including horror, fantasy and science fiction.

China Mieville’s writing is a treat for a jaded reader. I thought I’ve seen every possible innovation in the speculative fiction genre, but Perdido Street Station was a pleasant surprise. The story doesn’t have anything new to offer--careless scientist causes trouble---but the setting of the story is unusual.
It’s a beautiful read. The novel is lengthy, but the imagery, the stories and the characters made it all worthwhile.


Rating: 9.5 out of 10

Durarara!!x2 Shou



This 12-episode sequel to Durarara!! features the same cast of characters and a few additions.
Celty Sturluson seems to have become a favorite target of the enforcers and the media following the chases. Apparently, there is a bounty on her head and the police were not the only ones looking for her.

The murders of a serial criminal named Hollywood is also a favorite subject by the media. The killer wears a different getup in every crime scene.

Ryuugamine Mikado is approached by a classmate who claims to know his connection to the Dollars. 

Ikebukuro seemed peaceful six months after the events of the first season, but there is a lot going on in the background.

The series retained its signature storytelling which uses different perspectives from so many characters then tie them all up towards the end. It tried to replicate the pace and the intensity of the first season but it has failed in its job to keep me interested. They just added a few more characters that did not really make a splash.

Rating: 5.5 out of 10

Minecraft




Developer: Mojang
Publishers: Mojang, Microsoft Studios, Sony Computer Entertainment

Minecraft has five game modes to choose from. These are Survival, Creative, Adventure, Spectator and Hardcore.

In Survival Mode, the player gathers blocks and builds to gain experience points as well as try to survive different physical dangers. He has a health bar, hunger bar, and armor level. You could die in Survival. In Creative Mode, the players cannot be attacked by creatures or be killed. Some unique items are available for crafting. Hardcore Mode is the same as Survival Mode but the difficulty level is harder. When the player dies he can be sent to the Spectator Mode, wherein you can’t interact with any object. In Adventure Mode, you cannot break or place blocks like in Creative and Survival Modes. You can interact with objects however.

The best way to experience the game is to pick Survival Mode. Survival has difficulty levels. I picked this one so I can create as well as fight the creatures. Survival Mode has several features that you can explore in the game. These are crafting, smelting, brewing, enchanting, and collecting items in your inventory.

It can be a single-player game with no specific goal or multiplayer, depending on your preference.

The health bar can lower when the player is hungry or injured. When you’re hungry, then of course you have to eat. If you have a house, you can build a stove where you can cook the foodstuffs you have gathered.

To create items and structures, you need to collect resources from anywhere in the map. Destroy blocks so you can collect them. Everything on the map is made of these blocks. Some blocks can be destroyed by specific materials.

The map has different biomes. Each area has flora and fauna specific to that terrain. There are also mountains, caves, bodies of water and forests. While you explore the map, you may encounter NPCs known as mobs like animals, villagers and other creatures. Some can be hostile. Some animals can be taken as pets and fenced like the wolf, horse, donkey, ocelot, mule and skeleton horse. The name of the dimension where the player spawns the first time is the Overworld.

There are also two other dimensions in the game, the Nether and the End, which can be accessed through portals.

There is a day and night cycle in the world. At night, there are more hostile creatures such as zombies, skeletons, spiders, and creepers. Mobs can be killed to acquire items.





(I played Minecraft on PS3 so it took me while to get used to the controls when building. I’ve had no other problems besides that slow, confusing start. I have not tried multiplayer or online so I can’t really comment on that. This short review is about my experience in Survival Mode.)

Minecraft was very addictive. It took me months to build a home with rooftop gardens but even that was not enough. There’s always something you want to add or another project you want to start. 

For someone who spent most of her childhood building miniature houses, this was like a dream game for me. I was gonna pick Creative Mode initially but I figured a little challenge would be more welcome. It was confusing the first time I played. Even when I started with the Tutorial, I had two bad starts. The first time I was killed by a skeleton. I was trapped in a forest at night and didn’t know where to go. I also realized later that I should have picked a different site for my house. I built mine on the beach so when I started digging, a section of the beach collapsed because there was water underneath.

It’s a game that you master through experience. I don’t read manuals or tutorials so sometimes I had to redo projects when I realize I could have picked better materials.

It can be time-consuming. I don’t remember how many hours I spent in a cave the first time I found one. The more you learn about the types of materials you can create, the more reason to explore to gather items. For me it was a cycle. Whenever I finished a project, I always had another new idea. The only limit is your imagination. I could play from evening until morning and not know about it.

The graphics was not bad for my eyes. Some games trigger motion sickness when I try to look around, but Minecraft’s animation isn’t high definition so I could play for hours at a time.

Rating: 9.5 out of 10

(Note: This review is long overdue. I've been busy the past few months so some of my latest game reviews are quite late.)


Friday, November 11, 2016

Binan Koukou Chikyuu Bouei-bu LOVE!


Binan Koukou Chikyuu Bouei-bu LOVE! Is a parody of the magical girl genre. Never has any series made me laugh at the concept alone. I was expecting a lot of funny scenes and most surely, the anime didn’t disappoint. 


From left: Naruko Io, Zaou Ryuu, Hakone Yumoto, Kinugawa Atsushi, Yufuin En and Wombat
The Earth Defense Club of Binan High School had no activities whatsoever. The club members loved to chill out at the Kurotama onsen (bathhouse) owned by Hakone Yumoto. While discussing an ingredient used in oden, a creature that looks like a pink wombat falls into the water. He calls himself Wombat and said he wanted to protect Earth. The boys protested and when the commotion caught Yumoto’s attention he spotted Wombat and proceeded to cuddle him, much to Wombat’s horror.


Tawarayama Mangan-sensei passed out
Wombat later takes control of the teacher Mr. Tawarayama and forms the five-man club. The boys suspected that the teacher had died and that Wombat had to be close by the body to keep it from decomposing.




Wombat showed them the five magical bracelets called Loveracets. Every time the bracelets glowed, it meant that trouble was nearby. They fought their first enemy with the guidance of Wombat, although they mostly disagreed.


From left: Akoya "Chevalier Perlite" Gero, Kinshirou "Chevalier White" Kusatsu and Ibushi "Chevalier Argent" Arima 


Binan Koukou Chikyuu Bouei-bu LOVE! Has 12 episodes of fun. I could not stop laughing at their transformation sequence before every fight. Even the monsters they needed to defeat were funny. My most favorite episode is the one with a student obsessed with even numbers and splitting his chopsticks right. 

The theme of their powers was love, a power that should overcome any negative energy coming from fellow students or their surroundings.

I think the humor worked for me because the situations weren’t senseless. The humor wasn’t forced but came naturally through the characters and the people they encountered. There is reality hidden underneath all the fun.

I know it’s not exactly a series that’s life changing but it was still fun. It wasn’t nonsense fun either because it was able to get its message across. It’s parody done right.

Rating: 8 out of 10

Joker Game



Just before World War II began, the most powerful countries of the world were wary of each other's powers. One strategy to gather information is through sending spies. For such a purpose, Lieutenant Colonel Yuuki has created the D Agency to select and train the best. Applicants were screened through various tests. Those who survived were trained in various fields essential for their future missions.

To be effective spies, they must be able to blend into the background and convince people of who they are.  First Lieutenant Sakuma was sent to D Agency for a mission. He describes the men as monsters because they were calm, cold and calculating.

The series has 12 episodes, each one about a different mission. The characters all look plain and almost indistinguishable, staying true to the series's objective of presenting Japan's ultimate spies.



Lt. Col. Yuuki (middle) witht he 8 spies of D Agency

Spies playing two games at once. The visible game is poker and the other one, the joker game, which isn't visible


The first thing that came to mind was that the characters all looked the same. Each still had a distinct feature but they were not remarkable when placed next to other characters. Not that that was an entirely bad idea. If each spy had distinctive hairstyles and eye color it would defeat the purpose of infiltrating different countries as a spy. The drawback however is that such a method makes it more difficult for the audience to remember the characters after watching the series.

The series is too short as well. There is no recall at all. Impressive though each story was, it's a pity you will easily forget the previous episode when you proceed to the next. It could easily surpass other anime of the same theme when it comes to storytelling and quality. Yet all of that is lost because everything happened so fast. It's not often that a historical fiction of this quality is made. I think the characterization and story-telling could have been improved. Except for Sakuma from the first episode, no one else stood out. All the other series of the genre I have seen so far were distorted and bent for purposes of attracting more viewers who are not particular about the details of history.

It had a lot of promise, especially because the impending Second World War served as a backdrop. The series was a wasted potential.


Rating: 6.5 out of 10

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Darksiders


War, one of the Four Horsemen


Developer: Vigil Games
Publisher: THQ
Released on January 2010

Darksiders is inspired by the idea of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse from the Book of John in which was stated that there were seven seals held by God. Opening the first four of these seals will bring out the harbingers of destruction, heralding the Last Judgment. These creatures ride horses of different colors and symbolize events leading to the Apocalypse. The four beings come out in the following order: Conquest (riding the white horse), War (red horse), Famine (black horse) and Death (pale horse). Collectively, they are called the Four Horsemen.



The Watcher and War on Ruin

The Story

In Darksiders, the player takes on the role of War. The mythology behind the Four Horsemen is slightly different from the one in the Bible.

Heaven and Hell have been in a constant war with neither one gaining enough advantage to secure victory. Because of this stalemate, the Charred Council was created to serve as a bridge between the two factions. Its aim was to secure balance in the world. It was the Charred Council who created the Four Horsemen to serve them in times of disaster. The Horsemen will act as enforcers of the Council.

In time, a third party emerged---humans. Because humans were frail, the Seven Seals were created and will be broken only when the Endwar between Heaven and Hell begins.

When War appeared, he thought that the final battle has started but he learned from the angel Abaddon that the last seal has not been broken yet and that he was the only one of the Four Horsemen who arrived. The humans have all but vanished on the face of the earth.

The demon Straga killed Abaddon and defeated War. But War appeared before the Charred Council and was accused of starting the Endwar. The Horsemen were supposed to be neutral but the Council claimed that War is fighting for Hell. War insisted he had no hand in the disaster and he did not know why he was summoned even when the seventh seal is still intact. He asked the Charred Council to give him a chance to clear his name. The Council agreed to let War find the real perpetrators but he will lose all his power and will be bound to The Watcher. The Watcher will follow him closely but will only interfere, and even possesses the power to destroy him, if he forgets his mission.



Samael

Gameplay

Darksiders is a third-person hack and slash game. War has physical and magical combat skills.

The world, now destroyed by the premature war, is divided into several areas that can be visited later. Some areas become accessible only after War acquires certain weapons or abilities to unlock the passages. Once the area is unlocked, War can travel easily. Traveling involves hurdling environmental puzzles, fighting warriors both from Heaven and Hell, and collecting items like the artifacts. War has to climb, jump, swim and fly. War has a phantom horse named Ruin which he will be able to summon later on.
Some fights can last longer because puzzles are incorporated in the chase.

War replenishes his health and mana by absorbing souls from defeated enemies. The souls can also be used a currency when purchasing from Vulgrim.

His main weapon is the Chaoseater but he can acquire other weapons later in the game, both melee and projectile weapons. Once the enemy has weakened, a prompt appears for a QTE.

His magic attacks are divided into four, namely; Affliction, Blade Geyser, Immolation and Stoneskin. Collectively, they are called Wrath powers. When unlocked, he can also use a form known as Chaos when the Chaos meter is filled.

Items and upgrades are purchased from Vulgrim, a demon merchant recommended by the Charred Council. He appears in specific locations on the map that need to be unlocked. Later, he will also provide War a way to travel faster through the Serpent Holes. 



Ulthane/Black Hammer and War


Darksiders reminds me of God of War and Dante’s Inferno. All three have used elements in religion in creating the stories. In terms of gameplay, Darksiders was more fun overall because of the variety of obstacles I had to overcome to beat the game.

The puzzles were harder, the bosses were more difficult to beat and the map well-planned. I did not have to pass through an area once but I had to explore the nooks and crannies just so I would not miss anything. Some areas after all can only be opened later so it was easy to try to remember the map. I like how it maximized the use of the environment throughout the game, not a site you just pass through and forget. The puzzles in particular were fun because they were as challenging as those found in Prince of Persia.

I enjoyed fighting as well because of the variety of enemies I encountered. I had to cycle through all the weapons and magic abilities to find the right one, never relying on just one approach to attacking.

War was not exactly the type of character you’d remember even after you’re done playing. There was no emotional appeal and so I was not particularly attached to the story.

The music and graphics were both good. I like how the different environments were planned. I went through an abandoned human city, the desert, and a lake of fire.

Although it was obviously made in response to the success of the God of War franchise, Darksiders can stand on its own. When it felt alright spending hours playing a linear game like this, then it must be good. It’s such a shame that both the developer and publisher are now defunct (Nordic Games has acquired THQ and is now known as THQ Nordic) and they were not able to complete a series.

Rating: 9 out of 10

Wednesday, November 09, 2016

Kimi no Na wa.

Miyamizu Mitsuha from Itomori is bored with her life. When she wakes up one day, everyone around her was weird, claiming she was acting silly the previous day. Clueless as to what they meant, Mistuha didn’t think there was anything wrong with her. 

Tachibana Taki from Tokyo woke up feeling strange. He was quite sure he was a girl. His suspicion was confirmed when everything that he did that day seemed unusual. He realizes that he must be another person placed in the wrong body.

This suspicion was confirmed when they both realized their spirits were switched. Mitsuha’s classmates tell her she sometimes doesn’t seem to be herself. Now that she knows about the body swap, it all made sense. Meanwhile, Taki found  entries in his journal that he certainly didn’t write. Add to that their hazy memories of the events from yesterday. They don’t seem to remember the body switch. The only evidence are the notes. They left these messages on paper, their cell phones and by writing reminders on their body.

They got used to it eventually until one day the switch stopped. Taki tried to contact Mitsuha but he couldn’t so he decided to visit her hometown. His discovery rocked his world.


The story didn’t seem to have anything special. The only thing I looked forward to was how it was executed. Body switching isn’t new and so is tampering with time. Perhaps the last one was what has drawn a lot of fans. Kimi no Na wa used a different approach from what I sometimes read in science fiction, but it’s not something I’d gush over. Being a science fiction fan admittedly took the fun out of the movie for me. It’s not as complex to me as the others made it out to be. For this short review, I will look instead at the narrative and the animation.

The introduction didn’t have enough time to create characters with very distinct personalities but it was enough to set the mood. There was a portion in the movie showing parts of Mitsuha’s and Taki’s daily activities that showed they began to genuinely care about each other and are actually enjoying the body switch. It’s a formula for either a heartwarming or devastating ending.


I cannot question the quality of the animation and sound. Shinkai Makoto has been recognized in those departments. I had misgivings about his other films so I was skeptical of this one (I don’t care if you hate me for that statement).

I initially had an issue about the paradox created by the different timelines of Mitsuha and Taki. But I guess you could cancel out the problems with the appearance of the Kuchikamizake.

Overall, it was a good film though I would not rank it among the best I’ve seen. The story has an emotional draw and the animation is beautiful. It didn’t have the wow factor I was looking for. The story didn’t shock or sadden me and the lead characters were generic. The pace towards the end was good and I was excited for a while until I started questioning the mechanism. It’s one of those movies which results in divided opinions.

Rating: 8 out of 10

Orange




Takamiya Naho received a letter ten years from the future. What was even more uncanny was that she wrote the letter for herself. There were instructions in the letter about saving a transfer student named Naruse Kakeru.

At first she didn’t believe it. The Naho from the future expressed her regret of failing to do a lot of things and for not making the right decisions. The letter tells the young Naho to do her best to make Naruse happy. She found out how important the message was when she read that Naruse would no longer be around ten years from now.


Naruse Kakeru and Takamiya Naho

Naho and Suwa Hiroto with baby from the future



Orange is a sad tale of friendship, loss and young love. It takes the character type of Naruse, a lead male character who has a painful past, even further. It explored the helplessness of depression, a psychological illness greatly misunderstood by most people. Naho on the other hand does not have qualities that set her apart from other lead female characters of the romance genre.

The idea of altering the past is not a new approach to storytelling but it was still refreshing considering how it’s rarely used in romance. I like that it didn’t dwell much on the mechanism of time travel because it did away with the trouble of explaining how it works (it’s not the focus of the story after all). Instead it highlighted the emotional and psychological impact on the characters from the past and the future. I was skeptic about the paradox created by such an idea but I was given a satisfying answer (well, more like I came up with the solutions myself) towards the end.


From left back: Hagita Saku, Chino Takako, Suwa
From left botton: Naho, Naruse and Murasaka Azusa


The implications of changing the past can be both painful and inspiring. When one gains something, someone loses. It can’t be an even exchange. That I think was what had drawn me to the series.

This 13-episode series is not exactly the best I’ve seen but Naruse’s character was the best portrayal of a person suffering depression and anxiety. It’s a subject that has been misinterpreted and avoided in media. Some portrayals are simply insulting and the so-called depressed characters are just sulky in general. Naruse is the best example I’ve seen so far. It won’t surprise me if viewers cannot sympathize with him. The depressed are usually so deep into their condition that reaching out will take a lot of effort on the part of friends and loved ones. What seems stubborn and overreaction is almost exactly what happens when a depressed person reacts. Bravo for that!






The effect of changing the past might be able to help Naruse but another character, Suwa Hiroto, also has to make a painful choice. I believe in giving love a chance so I was also rooting for Naruse. But sacrificing someone’s happiness is something I wouldn’t want anyone to do so I feel Suwa’s pain. I will leave it up to you to decide if it’s unfair for Suwa or if it’s a valiant move. That is the appeal of the series after all.


Rating: 8 out of 10

Noragami Aragoto



The sequel of Noragami introduces new characters and a new complication in Yato and Iki Hiyori’s relationship. Yukine is now at peace with his role as Yato’s Regalia and they have become close friends and companions. However, Yato is still poor and struggling. Despite that, Hiyori refuses to leave Yato’s side even if the others have advised her to have her soul fixed. The danger of severing her soul is still present.

In the previous season, Bishamon was introduced as a deity who held a grudge against Yato. In Noragami Aragoto, that past is explored as it was revealed that Yato made a terrible crime. There were hints about Yato’s dark past in the prequel, but it was not until Bishamon decided to go for a full pursuit that Yato’s sins were exposed. Bishamon had a problem with one of her Regalia, similar to what happened to Yato and Yukine earlier.

Will they be able to stop Bishamon? How will Hiyori react? And what other forces are after Yato?


Bishamon

In my review of the first season, I complained about the lack of purpose of the series. It focused too much on the relationship of Yato, Hiyori and Yukine. Now that that is out of the way, this 13-episode series has shown a lot of potential. I like the humor even more instead of being distracted.

It incorporates mythology and religion in the story. The direction of the narrative is much clearer to me now because Yato has more stories to tell. I enjoyed the fight scenes as well. It’s interesting how the creator interpreted divine power and punishment. As a mythology fan, I approve of its approach to magic and the idea of godhood. Yukine’s devotion to her friends is both touching and frightening because of the inherent danger.

Rating: 9.5 out of 10

Tuesday, November 08, 2016

Rokka no Yuusha

At the rise of the Demon God, it was prophesied that six heroes called the Braves of the Six Flowers will rise to meet the challenge. They are chosen by the Goddess of Fate and given a mark to distinguish them from other people.




You cannot wish to become a Brave but that did not stop Adlet Mayer from wanting to be among the chosen. He proclaims himself as the strongest man in the world. When he was captured and detained after interrupting a competition between two warriors, he met Princess Nashetania who claimed she is one of the Braves. Adlet was chosen as a Brave that night while in detention when a mark appeared on his body. They travel together.

On their journey they heard tales about the Brave killer on the loose. They meet Flamie who was revealed to be the Brave killer by the knight Goldov, Nashetanya’s sworn protector. Flamie wanted to fight the Demon God herself, being a Brave as well, but Adlet was relentless in convincing her that they should all travel as a group

They meet three more people who claim to be Braves. Chamo is a Saint of Swamps with a peculiar fighting ability. Mora is the Saint of Mountains, a formidable woman who speaks her mind. Hans is an assassin who acts like a cat.

All the Braves have met at last, but there were seven of them. The legends said there would be six, so one of them is pretending to be a Brave. The story shifts to the mystery of finding the seventh member. Adlet was the natural suspect. He had to flee to save his life and somehow find a way to convince the others that he wasn’t the liar.


Adlet Mayer

From left: Goldov, Nashetanya, Chamo, Adlet, Mora, Flamie and Hans


Rokka no Yuusha is a mystery series masquerading as an adventure story. The sudden shift in the focus of the story was so obvious that it was a different, though not unpleasant, experience for me. I like this new approach to the over saturated mystery genre. I didn’t read the synopsis of this 12-episode series so I got a nice surprise.

The tension leading up to the final confrontation was done nicely. Adlet was trapped slowly in a net of suspicion and mistrust nearly without an escape. The pace of the narrative went from slow to fast as soon as the seven Braves met. It was almost like reading a well-written suspense short story inspired by Poe. There were intense moments interspersed with the dialogues that seemed well-planned overall. I’m not sure if it was intentional but the narrative of this series is one of the best planned that I have watched.

Jaded mystery fans might find the series interesting. You can even finish the series in one day because it’s that good. I don’t think it was mostly just figuring out who the seventh member was (because I already had a good idea who it was) but it focused on the characters’s abilities to take advantage of situations. Adlet didn’t have the subtlety that everyone else seemed to have so he fell into the trap so easily.

Rating: 9 out of 10

Aoharu x Kikanjuu




Tachibana Hotaru believes in fighting for the right. As the high school Student Council President she believes it is part of her duty to protect the weak from bullies and malcontents. She is sometimes mistaken as a boy because of her short hair and demeanor. It was therefore not surprising that she wanted to avenge her best friend Kanae when she was conned by a host. Hotaru looked for the host Matsuoka Masamune. She was challenged by Masamune to a survival game.


Tachibana Hotaru

Hotaru lost when she took a bullet from a toy gun so she was forced to join Masamune’s team Toy Gun Gun to pay the damages in the host club during the confrontation. She was introduced to the other member Yukimura Tooru, an erotic mangaka, who at first refused to accept her. When they won for the first time together, Yukimura relented and accepted Hotaru as a member.


Matsuoka Masamune

Yukimura Tooru

Hotaru didn’t think so badly about the survival game anymore. In fact she was starting to enjoy it. Toy Gun Gun was invited for a special tournament when they received a black envelop. But this is the start of troubles to come. Hotaru will be entangled in Masamune’s and Yuuki’s past where her sense of justice will be put to the test. Futhermore, she learns that Toy Gun Gun wasn’t supposed to take in a female member, but Masamune and Yuuki both think she’s a guy.

I enjoyed this 12-episode series for its humor and action. Hotaru’s antics were so fun to watch. She wasn’t a girl to be stepped on.

The series was also able to squeeze as much action as well because its highlight were the survival games. There were a lot of things to look forward to besides the result of the competitions. Will Hotaru improve and become the best in the game? Will Masamune and Yuuki finally discover that she’s a girl and still accept her? Will they be able to beat their worst enemy?

There were also hints of a budding romance between the characters. It was funny how Masamune reacted as he became close friends with Hotaru and developed feelings for her all the while thinking she’s a boy. I wish a TV series sequel is possible. Although masked as a boy, Hotaru is one badass female. She’s neither cute nor a vixen so I can easily identify with her as a normal girl with interesting hobbies. Seeing her enjoy the game made me remember that feeling I experienced when I played a shooter for the first time. Masamune and Yuuki were fun to watch as well.

If the mechanics of the survival game seems different from real life, remember that it’s fictionalized. Sports anime are still able to pull it off despite the exaggeration and superhuman feats. Nit-picking about the details of the survival game shows you don’t understand the purpose of fiction at all. Aoharu X Kikanjuu was fun and there were no boring moments.


Rating: 9 out of 10

Monday, November 07, 2016

Fall of Light by Steven Erikson



This second installment of the Kharkanas Trilogy explores the effects of Draconus’s gift to Mother Dark. In particular, it delves further into the emotional torture brought about by war, a war that began because of one man’s love.

Kurald Galain is in the throes of a civil war. Anomander Rake leaves Kharkanas to seek for his brother Andarist who is still mourning the brutal murder of his betrothed. Silchas Ruin tries to shoulder the responsibility left by his older brothers by gathering the Houseblades of the noble families and recreate the Hust Legion. But will this be enough to stop Vatha Urusander’s Legion led by Hunn Raal? Rall wants Urusander to marry Mother Dark to depose Draconus. Moreover, those opposing Mother Dark’s power found an ally in the former high priestess Syntara who is forming the Cult of Light.

Meanwhile, Hood gathers an army to fight Death. The Jaghut, Jheck, Dog-Runners, and Toblakai and those seeking for answers join Hood. Magic is also bleeding unchecked into the world. K’rul and Skillen Droe set out to heal the wounds where this terrible sorcery came from but they were not the only entities out to seek these untamed powers.

In Forge of Darkness (first book in the trilogy), Erikson went a step further by exploring the human psyche as it was affected by love, war, violence and jealousy. If it is possible to go up another notch, Erikson has done that in Fall of Light. Every character seemed intent on pouring his or her heart out. If you’re into this type of narrative, I think you’ll get a full treat. But for those who are looking for action, the book starts with a slow pace at the first half. It picks up gradually towards the end just before the battle between Silchas Ruin’s gathered forces and Urusander’s Legion. It all would have been worth it if he did not choose to gloss over that battle though.

I would not have minded if all the characters were philosophers-wannabe, but it lacked the quality and variation that distinguished the Malazan Book of the Fallen series from others in the genre. It was like listening to the same problem over and over again, although Erikson still does this better than most other writers who have attempted this. I wish it was spread out evenly throughout the book but I guess it was his intention to begin with that pace. I did not have to know what every character thought. He could have picked evenly from among the characters and did not decide to give everyone a chance to speak.

If you’re reading the series to gain more information, the book has plenty of easter eggs. There are some light moments in the book, which I’m glad was interspersed between the monotonous droning of some characters. I still enjoyed the book despite my misgivings. The only real problem I had was the last fight. I was looking forward to it because he was building up to that last scene slowly.

Once again, Erikson proves that he’s the best in the high fantasy genre. He’s quite ahead above the others when it comes to storytelling and world-building.

Rating: 8 out of 10