Friday, March 8, 2013

Atelier Ayesha: The Alchemist Of Twilight Land Review

Atelier Ayesha: The Alchemist Of Twilight Land (officially localized as the Alchemist Of Dusk, but I refuse to call it that because it’s a stupid name) is the latest in the Atelier RPG series developed by Gust, it's worth noting that this game isn't connected to the previous 3 games at all, so if you want to jump in, you can do it here.

Atelier Ayesha tells the story of one of the best named protagonists in video game history, Ayesha Altugle, who runs a small alchemy workshop where she makes medicine, along with her pet…uh…cow…moose…yak…thing, the main gist of the plot is that her sister vanished one day while gathering herbs, but Ayesha spots an apparition of her one day after going under the assumption that she was dead, this motivates her to discover the secret behind her sister’s disappearance  so yeah, it’s pretty much Totori, but the main draw of the past 3 games has never been plot, it’s gameplay.

Ayesha brings a plethora of changes, not only to gameplay, but to the overall tone of the game as well, the happy go lucky fluffy worlds with no conflict are gone, replaced with a darker color palate, overall tone, and shift of focus, even the very art of alchemy is given a surprisingly dark background, something that completely came out of left field. The Arland games centered almost entirely on the main character, while Ayesha slightly shifts the focus away from the main character exclusively to building an actual story that unfolds very well, all of this is a very welcome change from the previous games, however the vast majority of the characters, in complete contrast to the environment or story, are completely happy and cheerful, and this makes the whole experience a bit jarring.

Among the changes Ayesha brings is a complete overhaul to the already deep alchemy system, instead of choosing items, throwing them together, and choosing traits, you get a much more daunting alchemy screen, with a stock yard where multiple traits are thrown into, you need to strategically input your items in order to get the traits you want, also there are cost points and various other small things that make the alchemy system more detailed, but at the same time, making it almost sarcastically complicated. The battle system also received some small tweaks, with an emphasis on enemy distance and the ability to move behind enemies and to the sides of them adds a little bit of strategy and solves the long standing problem of you constantly being a sitting duck.

The past 3 atelier games have had game specific gimmicks, Rorona had assignments, Totori had adventure licenses/points, and Meruru had town building, the gimmick in Ayesha is something called memory points, you can get these memory points by doing tons of activities, talking to certain NPCs, exploring environments, gathering items, battling…walking around, seriously they give these points out like candy, there’s no reason whatsoever that you should be struggling to obtain these, these points are used in conjunction with Ayesha’s memory diary. Certain events in the game are written down in this journal, along with special bonuses (for example, viewing a certain event that ends up in the journal might grant you an attack boost, or increase the amount of exp that you get from synthesis) you can then use memory points to unlock further bonuses  like a further attack boost or even more exp. my main complaint with thus system is that it lacks direction and feels somewhat like a hassle, Rorona’s assignment system ties into the main narrative, as does the adventure point system in Totori and the town building in Meruru, but this just feels like a glorified side quest with no tie in to the main story, sure you also get a nice little summary of the event, but that doesn't really mean anything at all, the system might be somewhat useful, little things like additional attack and more exp certainly don’t hurt, but the whole system feels like an afterthought and it doesn't really feel like it helps much at all.

Weapon upgrades have gotten a complete makeover as well. There is no forging, at all, instead you you synthesize certain items (alchemy stones for items and dyes for armor) and you can take whatever traits you put onto those items and transfer them over to your armor, you can do this as many times as you want, however stats can only be increased a certain number of times, that number increased based on the quality of the actual piece of weaponry or armor (which you can only get from the game’s first shop, or by beating enemies in certain areas) overall this is a nice change from the previous system, and also mostly eliminates the need to have money in order to upgrade, hopefully this system is the one that remains for previous games.

And of course, the time management system makes it’s unfortunate return, however it’s much more forgiving, what took multiple days in any of the Arland games will only take you one, losing a battle will only cost you one day, and the vast majority of synthesis is done in multiples of 3 and will only cost you around a day, so while I’m still not a huge fan of the time management system, it’s much more forgiving, so I suppose I don’t have as much of a problem with it this time around.

Overall Ayesha is a pretty fantastic game, the major shift in tone may be a bit confusing and off putting at first, but it’s executed very well, the rich cast of characters is always refreshing, and the tweaks that have been done to the various gameplay elements only serve to deepen the experience, for everything Ayesha does wrong, which isn't much, it does another 10 things right. 8/10

Saturday, December 29, 2012

The Top 10 Anime Of 2012

Here we go, obligatory top 10 anime time!

10. Oda Nobuna No Yabou

A guy thrown into Japan's Sengoku period where all of the warlords are cute girls? Sounds generic right? Sounds like a typical ecchi fest with no interesting story or characters right? Well shockingly enough you'd be wrong, Ont he surface Oda Nobuna seems like a typical throwaway anime with no discernible qualities, but it does a fantastic job of crafting an intricate and engaging story with a colorful cast of characters that had me on the edge of my seat from week to week.

9. Tari Tari

The latest venture from one of my favorite studios PA Works makes it's way onto this list. It's honestly your typical "girl wants to do something and collects people to help her do it" show, but it finds a way to hit that sweet emotional chord that few shows manage to hit these days, the ending was also very good for an anime original, and manages to both conclude the story and leave the door open for more. The only thing holding this back from being higher on the list is the hilariously forgettable cast of characters, you could replace the cast of Tari Tari and nobody would even think about missing them.

8. Fate/Zero

You knew it was coming. Fate/Zero is the latest anime entry in the Fate series. All of the characters are engaging  the dialogue and plot are all very well done, and the animation is among the best in the history of anime. But Fate/Zero suffers from something called too much plot, even for a 2 cour show, there's just too much going on, each episode focuses on roughly 69 different things, and keeping track of all of those things can get somewhat tedious, even for the most hardened anime veteran  still, despite it's story flaws, Fate/Zero manages to weave an engaging tale sure to leave you wanting, it just has too much to do and not nearly enough time.

7. Natsuiro Kiseki

Natsuiro Kiseki snags the 7 spot simply because it does something different, you have 4 girls who want to be idols, even to the point of having an audition around the end, this is normally the point where they pass the audition and become idols, but NatsuIro didn't do that, instead they fail the audition, and don't get another shot, they don't become idols. This isn't a story about achieving your dreams through perseverance  but instead it's a story about maturity, and instead of sending the message that all dreams can come true with enough hard work, it sends the much more realistic message that not all dreams in this world can be obtained.

6. Binbougami Ga

Binbougami Ga grabs the number 6 spot because it does absolutely everything correctly, the drama and character development feel real, the comedy is everywhere and it's hilarious, the animation and voice acting are top notch, even the bitch main character slowly becomes more and more likable (take notes, OreImo) this really is a hidden gem, and it's something that everybody needs to see.

5. AKB0048

An idol show being on this list isn't really a shock for anyone who knows me, but what gets AKB0048 on this list is not just the original story (though that's the main thing) but how well it's executed. They easily could've just given us another Idolm@ster but instead they went with an original concept and it came across very well, obviously there wasn't a ton of action in season 1 because it's a 2 cour show, but it was surprisingly entertaining and one of the better shows of the year.

4. Kokoro Connect

I expected this show to be good, but not nearly this good, this might sound weird but I don't think this should be marathoned at all, maybe it's just me but I think the week to week tension really took this show from great to marvelous, their friendship being twisted and stretched to it's absolute limits was entertaining to watch, everything here meshes into an unforgettable experience, except for Aoki who really should move over to the forgettable cast of Tari Tari, he'd fit in well there.

3. Kill Me Baby

Kill Me Baby truly is the evolution of comedy anime, in all my years of watching anime I have never encountered a show that has had me giggling, choking on whatever I happened to be eating, and pounding my desk as much as Kill Me Baby, but for everyone who adores this show, there are even more that hate it, and that's simply because comedy is very hit or miss, slapstick comedy even more, you either like it or you don't and most people tend to fall on the latter side, however that's not a detriment to the show at all, Kill Me Baby does what it does very well, it's a 4koma adaptation that doesn't try to be anything more, the dynamic between Sonya and Yasuna is ridiculously entertaining, even had a very touching final scene, Kill Me Baby gave me everything I could possibly ask for, and it's proof that you don't need a large budget to be entertaining. Plus it had Rie Kugimiya on helium, can't beat that.

2. Jinrui Wa Sutai Shimashita

Jinrui Wa Sutai Shimashita manages to grab the number 2 spot left me confused, I mean that in the best way possible, it was certainly a fantastic series, but it left me confused as to whether I fully grasped the message it was trying to send, and that's a great thing, the multiple layers of this are truly what makes it unique. Everything has some sort of parallel to real life. Is it admiring the mass consumption attitude of humanity? Or is it condemning it? Are the fairies a parallel of humanity, causing unnecessary problems, worshiping non deities as their god, and ruining everything they touch? Either way Jinrui had a very interesting premise and it came across well in the anime, certainly one of the more entertaining shows of the year if you don't mind a bit more dialogue. 

1. Chihayafuru

Chihayafuru, also known as that show you have to search really hard to find haters of, has the number 1 spot simply because it's perfect. I don't throw that word around a lot, but this show truly deserves that adjective, the atmosphere is beautiful, every single karuta game, even the ones that have no overall importance, is engaging, the characters are colorful and varied, the drama and the emotion feels real. People slapping cards somehow manages to become an experience that sometimes transcends words. Chihaya's slow climb to the top has been a wonderful roller coaster of emotions, hopefully season 2 doesn't disappoint.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Atelier Totori: The Adventurer Of Arland Review

And here we go, the second part in the popular Atelier franchise, will this exceed it's predecessor? Let's find out! This is a sequel, so if you want to understand most of the references made, as well as get some backstory on some of the returning characters, you'll have to play Rorona.

After the events of the last game Rorona traveled all across Arland, spreading knowledge about Alchemy around in an attempt to improve the land. In this installment you take control of a young alchemist in training by the name of Totori, attempting to find her lost mother, who went missing a while ago while exploring a remote area of the land, However Totori isn't the Alchemy prodigy that Rorona was, add that to the fact that she's a very timid and sheltered girl, and her skills need a lot of sharpening if she's ever going to find her mother.

There are 3 main parts to this game, alchemy, adventuring, and time. Adventuring is pretty self explanatory,  you go around defeating monsters and leveling up just like in any other rpg, you have 3 different bars to maintain, HP, which are your hit points, MP, which are your magic points and manage what special skills you can use, and LP, which determines if your characters can defend an alchemist from an attack or not (I'll get into that a bit later), however something that's different is the way items are handled, unlike most rpgs where every character can use them, only alchemists (Rorona and Totori) are capable of using them, this makes them invaluable and is all the incentive you need to keep them safe during battle. If an alchemist is the target of a monster attack, a defend prompt appears giving you the option of taking the blow and saving your alchemist from harm providing you have enough LP.

Alchemy is the next major part, you can gather items in the field and synthesize them into new items in her workshop, these items have a ton of uses from battle weapons such as bombs to healing items to items for quests, (which will be your main source of money), the more you successfully synthesize, the higher your alchemy level gets, allowing you to make more high level items, the higher level an item is in contrast to your alchemy level, the higher chance you have of failure, failing a synthesis wastes the items you were using. The Alchemy system is very deep and intricate, with hundreds of different item possibilities.

The final major part and arguably the most important aspect is time, everything you do except for roaming around town takes a certain amount of time, and what you manage to accomplish before the end of your time will determine which ending you get, the purpose of this is essentially getting you to travel more efficiently, and adding a new layer of strategy to the game, however it comes across as very frustrating and constricting. This feature was present in Rorona as well, but Totori takes it a step further by dividing up the days into segments, in the previous game you could collect as many items as you want in a certain place without consequence, but in this game collecting items takes up roughly 3-5/10 of a day, this pushes the time management aspect but the idea of taking 3/10 of a day to collect a single herb is a little absurd.

 The story and various side events are presented through cutscenes...a lot of cutscenes...I cannot stress enough how many cutscenes there will eventually be driven mad by the sheer number of cutscenes in this game, at first they serve as a nice distraction from the gameplay, but as the game goes on they become more of a negative than a positive, nothing is worse than being the victim of a long cutscene and forgetting what you were planning to do, there really is no reason for this, as the gameplay alone is enough to keep you engaged, the frequent events only serve to disturb your flow.

In terms of graphics, it's pure moe anime style, so if you're not a fan of the cutesy designs that come with the territory, odds are this isn't the game for you, everything is pretty to look at, but there's no reprieve from the art style and it's constantly thrown in your face, if anything it's the presentation that puts this game into a niche that will only appeal to a certain section of the gaming fanbase.

Overall thoughts: Atelier Totori is the type of game that appears like another throwaway game on the surface, but if you can stand the cutesy presentation and character models, it provides a very deep and strategic challenge. Don't come into this expecting an epic rpg experience that'll follow you around for years, but the multiple endings are enough to keep you coming back for more. Instead of straying away from it's predecessor, Totori manages to improve on it in very interesting ways. 7/10

Monday, June 4, 2012

Rune Factory: Tides Of Destiny Review

Rune Factory: Tides Of Destiny is the 5th installment in Natsume's Rune Factory series, and the first Rune Factory game to ever be released on a non nintendo console, the PS3. Rune Factory is a spinoff of Natsume's famous Harvest Moon series, and has been described as "harvest moon with swords" which is a fair summary of it. There's no continuity between the titles other than the occasional character cameo, so feel free to jump in anywhere.

In this game, you control a young boy by the name of Aden (you can actually choose whatever name you want, but Aden is the official name, so I'll be using that) who, along with his childhood friend Sonja (same deal here, you can choose whatever name) who land on the tropical Fenith Island with no recollection of how they got there, not only that, but they're also stuck in the same body (Aden's) They are found and greeted by the local cook Odette, who gives them a home and introduces them to the townspeople. As you're adventuring around to the different islands, you discover a dark sinister force is at work, and you must stop this plot to destroy the world while getting Sonja her body back. But the main point of Rune Factory isn't just completing the main storyline, it's building up your relationships with townspeople, and immersing yourself in the expansive world they provide to you, this worls very well on a console, as there's more room for larger environments. As this game is for the Wii as well as the PS3, it's not expansive as it could be due to the underwhelming power of thee Wii, but it's still a pretty and fluid game nonetheless. Also as a small side note you will hate water by the end of this game, seriously, there's a LOT of water travel, think of Hoenn times 3

There are other elements of Rune Factory as well, cooking, mixing medicine, growing crops, taking requests from the townspeople, participating in festivals, and forging all make for lots of fun. You have tons of stats that range from walking, to sleeping, to battling with a certain weapon, however there's no need for grinding as just playing through the game normally will allow these stats to take care of themselves. Another big part of Rune Factory is marriage, there are a total of 9 bachlorettes for you to choose from, from the clumsy Lily to the thickheaded Elena, as is the standard in the series up to this point, the cast of characters are all very colorful and unique. This game handles relationships a bit differently than previous games, in the previous games you would continue raising your friendship level with a certain girl (or all of them and splitting your game up into multiple saves if you wanted to go that route) you'd go on a date or two, and eventually give her an engagement ring and get married. In this game however, you can't pursue romantic relationships until after beating the main storyline and getting Sonja's body back, the main reason for thie being that you can choose to play as Sonja as well, there are a total of 4 bachelors for Sonja to choose from, giving any girls or weird guys some alternate options.

Overall thoughts: Overall Tides Of Destiny doesn't do much to distinguish itself from past games in the series, but that's not really a bad thing since every game in the series has been very strong. Great peaceful soundtrack, addictive gameplay, and a huge world that allows you to fully immerse yourself in it all makes for a strong video game experience that should be experienced by any fans of the JRPG genre. 9/10. And also here's a wonderful song from the soundtrack.

Atelier Rorona: The Alchemist Of Arland Review

Such a pretty logo.
BETCHA DIDN'T SEE THIS COMING! ...Okay the select people that I've been gushing to about this game might've known...BUT NOT ANYONE ELSE!

Atelier Rorona: The Alchemist Of Arland is the first installment of the Arland series, but is actually the 11th installment of the Atelier series, a very set of popular games in japan, most of which have sadly not seen a North American release, with releases starting all the way back on the PS1, however this is Atelier's first outing on the PS3, with this game being released in fall 2010. It's also worth mentioning that all of the games aren't connected to each other, only games with the same title, so for example Atelier Marie, Atelier Elie, and Atelier Lilie all take place in Salburg, and are therefore connected in some way, however the next game, Atelier Judie, takes place in a totally different land, with no connection to the previous 3 titles. As I mentioned earlier, Rorona is the first installment of the Arland series, meaning that if you have no previous experience with the series, you can still jump right in.

In this game you control a young alchemist in training by the name of Rorolina Frixell, she is currently studying alchemy under her current master, Astrid Zexis. Astrid is a brilliant but generally lazy alchemist, Rorona began studying under Astrid after she saved Rorona's parents from an illness through the power of Alchemy but was unable to pay afterwards, she's currently working to pay off her debt. Due to Astrid's general laziness, and also her slightly unpleasant attitude towards most people, the workshop has a pretty bad reputation amongst the townspeople, which is the setup for our plot. One day a knight from the kingdom by the name of Sterk informs Rorona that the workshop will be shut down unless she can prove it's worth by completing various assignments, and reporting each one over a period of 3 months, if she is unable to do this, then the workshop will be closed and Astrid will be exiled from the kingdom. Upon hearing this, Astrid informs Rorona that she'll be forced to come with her as she doesn't intend to forget Rorona's debt so easily, gives the workshop to Rorona, tells her to do it, and goes to take a nap, yes Astrid is my favorite character ever. Rorona must now journey all over the land, fighting monsters, performing alchemy, and doing quests for the townspeople, to save the workshop.

Now for my first problem with the game, the time system is FAR too constricting, there's no time to really enjoy the game to it's fullest because you'll find yourself scraping up trust points, which are given out in miniscule amounts, and completing assignments, leaving little time for exploration, also battling enemies isn't as important of a mechanic as it could be, I've beaten this game with Rorona being at level 25, there's no way the game should be beaten that way

Mahou Shoujo Rorona-chan!

But in all honesty that's my only complaint about this game, everything else, from the colorful cast of the characters, to the cute graphics, to the wonderful alchemy system, was all done very well. There are multiple endings that you can get depending on your party members and your actions through the game, which will keep you busy for a long time if you're a perfectionist, however there's no aftergame/infinite play mode, you must start over after beating the game with only your monster encyclopedia remaining, and to be honest the endings aren't worth another playthrough to get.

Overall Thoughts: This game is great for people who are into Rune Factory style RPGs like myself, great characters, graphics, and fun gameplay makes this a good game, but it's held back from being as good as it could be by it's restrictive assignment element, also no after game hurts it a lot as well, it gives you an engaging world but it doesn't let you explore it completely, that's generally the opposite of what these types of games should strive to do. 6/10

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Hyouka 1

And after a ridiculous amount of delays, mainly stemming from my own laziness, here's the other show I will be doing this season, Hyouka.

Hyouka is the latest animated venture from the infamous Kyoto Animation, known for various popular shows like Haruhi, K-On, and unfortunately underrated shows like Nichijou. First of all let me say that this show is very very pretty, here are just a few screenshots.

So yeah, this is a very pretty show, think typical PA Works quality, huge plus right off the bat. Anyway onto the episode!

We start off with our very unenthusiastic main character, Oreki Houtarou,  walking into school, he is surrounded by plenty of energetic students, laughing, playing, and recruiting for clubs, but he's not interested, he then buries the idea of being energetic, and clearly states that he wishes to live a "gray" life, so he's pretty much me, I like this kid. Flash forward to his class where he's talking who has to be his only friend: Satoshi Fukube, after a short conversation between the two where we learn Oreki's motto "If I don't have to do it, I won't, if I have to do it, make it quick." Satoshi spots a club application form in Oreki's pocket and wonders what's up, he pulls out a letter from his sister which is pretty much forcing him to sign up for the Classic Literature Club, so after grabbing the keys and going into the clubroom he walks in only to see...

Our beautiful Mio...I mean Eru! He locks eyes with her and she gives him a smile. So we get a brief conversation from them and learn that they were in a music class together once, but only Eru remembers. So after this our first mystery comes up, it's a typical locked room mystery, but don't expect Gosick quality here, apparently the janitor was cleaning the classrooms and Eru wandered into the room and somehow didn't see him, he leaves while somehow not seeing her and locks her in, kinda weak, but we do get this wonderful shot out of it.

Later on in the episode we get yet another mystery, this time involving a secret club, turns out it's just a really small note under all of the other club posters, yeah not doing the best job of captivating me here, turns out the whole mystery was set up by Oreki just to distract her...still don't really care.

Overall Thoughts: Godly animation, just godly, but other than that nothing really happens that grabs your attention outside of the amazingly pretty visuals. I do recognize that this is a very slow type of show, I just wish they did more to make me want to watch next week, and did I mention the animation is amazing?

Monday, May 7, 2012

Natsuiro Kiseki 4

5 Star Animation!

So after last week's travesty, will this week get better? Well enough speculation and let's find out!

Damn that was cute.
So the episode starts off with Yuka tiredly wandering into the kitchen for juice, however juice-chan does not await her, what does await her is our green headed girl's apparent love interest who goes by the name of Sano Takashi, after seeing him and freezing up like a typical lovestruck girl would do, she probably does one of the cutest things ever and quickly tries to hide behind the the counter as depicted in the picture above, I gotta say that was amazingly adorable. The two then share a semi sweet moment with him offering her a bottle of water and her shyly accepting. Flash forward to the two outside, and after a bit of chatting, Sano brings up Saki, and very seriously asks when she's moving, Yuka's eyes get big and she asks why, as she understands why he's so adamant about it, we don't get to know right now however, as we go to the next scene, but it's pretty obvious what's going on here.

Basked on what Rinko says during this scene, he apparently asked for Saki's phone number, however Yuka did not give it to him as she felt it wasn't her place to do so.Yuka casually leans back on the big rock, which will now be referred to as Geodude, and wishes that she was just like Saki, Geodude is more than happy to comply and now we have a body switch episode, oh god.

A little later on, after some misuse to Saki's body which involves her getting Sano's number, we get the girls who are gathered around Geodude again trying to wish away Yuka's accidental wish despite them coming to the conclusion before that you can't wish away another wish. This leads to disaster when Geodude goes into full troll mode and switches Aizawa and Rinko reason at all. After the 4 manage to fend off Rinko's...mother I assume, Yuka who is still in Saki's body, gets a text from Sano that causes her eyes to light up. Request for sex? Luckily no, this isn't a JC Staff show. It's a date request, which Yuki gladly accepts.

Actually kinda sweet.
 So fast forward to the date, which goes just like any other anime date usually does, laughter, fun, a boring song playing over the events, this leads to them almost kissing under the sunset until Rinko, still in Aizawa's body, breaks it up, Yuka comes to the realization that she's living a fantasy, he loves Saki, and they can never be together, she then "breaks up" with him, runs back to the other 3, and promptly faints. The 4 girls are then restored to their original body by Trolldude, and we get another feelgood moment with the 4 running off happily to buy drinks together.

Overall Thoughts: Big improvement over last week, but besides Sano getting his heart broken, I don't know what...really happened. The second body switch served literally no purpose and was just useless filler, it was an improvement, but this show really seems to have a problem with having no direction, and not really knowing what it's doing, I'd like to pass it off as just Sunrise being Sunrise but these are the same people who did Code Geass so we know they can produce great shows when they try. Get it together guys.