Friday, September 30, 2005

2X2 Shinobuden (The Nonsense Kinoichi Fiction)

Genre: Adventure / Comedy
Parental Guidance Recommended
2004 Ryoichi Koga, Haruo Sotozaki, ufotable zippers, CBC, Chiba TV, TV Kanagawa, TV Saitama

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MarkPoa's Description:
Shinobu-chan, fight on! Follow the adventures of the cute, bubbly, ninja trainee Shinobu as she studies to become the world's best ninja. Guided by the mysterious and lecherous Onsokamaru, Shinobu encounters one madcap adventure after another. How will this transform the life of normal everyday girl, Kaede? For that matter, how will the viewers react to all the madness?

(51 episodes)

Ninjas are totally sweet! >>> by MarkPoa

2X2 Shinobuden (pronounced "Nin-nin Shinobuden") is an anime in the vein of Excel Saga and Galaxy Angels: neck-deep in wackiness.

Plot? What plot? This series knows not this word "plot" you speak of. Instead, the series follows a year in the life of Shinobu and her new friend, Kaede. The episodes feature situational comedy focusing on a particular aspect of Shinobu's ninja training... or one of Onsokamaru's schemes. I found the humor to be hit-or-miss at times. The humor delves a lot into the realm of the weird and out-there... and it's actually surprising that there are quite a few original jokes that were incorporated into the series.

However, some of the gags were too corny or tried too hard. There are even some snarky commentaries on anime stereotypes... but again, it felt like the writers were trying too hard to be humorous.

Artwise, the series on cute characters. The female characters' character designs are so pinkishly adorable, you're liable to wonder if they're constantly blushing. Everything is quite brightly colored... it's almost a literal eye candy.

Sound-wise and song-wise, the series is nothing to write home about. In fact, other humor series (Galaxy Angel comes to mind quickly) have far better music than this. The ending song is catchy, though.

Before I end this, I should also point out one thing... there's a surprising amount of yuri overtones in this show. For those of you who are not familiar with the term... yuri would be girls love or "lesbian". It didn't bother me and there was nothing overtly sexual shown, but it might weird some people out.

Overall, 2X2 Shinobuden is worth a look-see. It's a short series that can entertain you for a while, but don't expect anything deep or profound from this anime.

Individual Rating: Art/Animation 7; Story 5; Characters 8; Sounds 6

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Kirby Canvas Curse

Genre: Strategy, Tactics
Platform: Nintendo DS
2005 Nintendo Co., Ltd. Screenshots and images courtesy of

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Cover Description:
Your DS stylus has been infused with the power to paint! When Kirby gets turned into a ball by an evil witch, your hand-drawn rainbow paths become the only way he can find power-ups and reach the gates of each world. Draw loops to make him speed up, make ramps to jump danger, and draw walls to block laser beams and cannon blasts as you explore seven worlds packed with adventure!

A must have DS title. >>> by Demoncaller777

I know this game is going to average out pretty low on the overview, but let me say that you should not pass this title up. If you have a DS then you're going to want this title, whether you're a Kirby fan or not. So, just try to ignore the average and allow me to explain.

Gameplay: This is why you should buy this game. The game allows you to do so much by using the stylus, more so than any other DS game out at the time. By touching Kirby with the stylus you can make him move faster or use whatever ability that you took from an enemy (11 abilities in all). And by touching enemies, you can freeze them in place, which in turn allows you to steal their ability (assuming they have one) and defeat them. That's not the limit to the stylus' usefulness, however. With it you can also draw lines in front of cannonor laser fire to protect Kirby, at one point in the game you also stop a small waterfall by using the stylus. The usefulness of the stylus is truly missed in the few parts of level where they stylus can not be used. Be aware also, that if you're not exactly the best with the stylus like me that this game is very difficult. That's not to the point where you'll stop playing due to a level being too hard, though.

Story and Plot: Okay, if you've ever played a Kirby game you know that the stories are usually pretty lame/not existent (with the exception of Revenge of Metaknight). This one follows the majority of the Kirby games and only tells you at the beginning of the game what you need to do and at the end of the game what happened.

Visuals: Visuals are bright, colorful, and grab your attention. You can pick what color your lines are later in the game, too. The reason this is not higher is because the DS has done so much better before. The reason it's not lower is because....well, Kirby's better in 2-d.

Characters: Well, there is only one character new to the series in this game and that is the final boss. You will eventually have the ability to chose 5 different balls all with different attributes, however, they are all characters seen before in the Kirby universe.

Sounds: Nothing too special to report here. Sounds are all just right for the game, and the music is what you'd expect. Nothing will have you toe-tapping or anything, but it's never just plain bad. Either way, you'll probably be too busy with the frantic action onscreen than to be concentrating on music.

Replay: K:CC gives you many reasons to replay the game. First of many is that with five different characters, you are given five different unique play styles, and five playthroughs. The next is Rainbow Run. With Rainbow Run you can pick between two adjectives. Use the least amount of ink or a time trial for one section of the area, for all of the 21 or so levels in the game. Completing the objectives unlock medals, which can be used to unlock things like music, line colors, levels, or new characters. Finally the mini-games are one of the most addictive and replayable things in this game. These games are all boss fights in story mode, but after you beat them twice each, you can practice them under 3 levels of difficulty. The games are either a race, copying a picture fast enough to so you aren't attacked by bombs, or a fun super breakout-esque game.

Trust me, if you own a DS, this is one of the games you should have. Even if you hate Kirby, this game is fun just due to how well it incorporates the stylus. On a final note, when I first got this game, the top screen of my DS was broken, but I could still play if you have a similar problem, just keep that in mind.

DIFFICULTY: Moderate - Difficult
RATINGS: Gameplay 10; Battle N/A; Story 5; Visuals 7; Characters 7; Sounds 7; Replay Value 9

Monday, September 19, 2005

Castlevania: Lament of Innocence

Genre: Action / Adventure
Platform: Playstation 2
2003 Konami Digital Entertainment America, Konami TYO. Screenshots courtesy of Amazon.

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Thundersenshi's Description:
"The forest of Eternal Night is swollen with darkness, as if it would rob away everything, and only moonlight provides a ray of hope for those who seek to reclaim the love they have lost." - Intro

This is the adventure of Leon Belmont, the first of a long line of famous vampire-hunters, and the story of how the centuries-old feud with Dracula all began.

It could have been the best Castlevania game. >>> by thundersenshi
I must confess something before starting this review. Although I consider myself to be a Castlevania fan, I have actually only played three of the games in the series, two of which I finished, and only one which I completed 100% on my own (that would be this game, Lament of Innocence). My interest in the series only started while watching my brother play Dracula X or Symphony of the Night and then eventually, when I attempted to play it myself. However, I have long been familiar with this series since I was but four years old. I was too young then to play the game, and the sight of floating medusa heads gave me nightmares; it was only my siblings and their friends, all a good deal older than my four years, who played the game and called it fun. And because of their enthusiasm years ago, and because of Symphony of the Night was such a great game (and I had long overgrown the fear of medusa heads by then), I came to be knowledgeable of the series’ characters and storyline though I hadn’t done much of the playing myself.

So you might call me a fan of the series’ story. However, if I were to rate Lament of Innocence bearing this particular element in mind, then I would say that I was a BIG disappointment. It started off with promise, but as I was nearing the end of my game, there wasn’t much else to look forward to, and even the ending left a blank look on my face and I was thinking, “That’s it?” Suffice it to say, I had been expecting more drama, a greater tragedy and the characters to elaborate on why things had gone so and so. This is the game about the first vampire-hunting Belmont! It’s supposed to be the beginning of the legend; never mind how predictable the bad guy has been from the start; the story ought to have had more build-up and tension. It’s the least the developers could have done.

Despite this, the game is not without some saving grace. Though it leaves much to be desired as an RPG (the way the story was executed leads me to believe the production of this game was hurried), it’s satisfying as an action game. This just proves how dynamic and engaging Castlevania battle systems can be in 3D. Leon has powerful whips, sub weapons, orbs, relics and magic. I like the orbs especially because they allow more freedom and creativity in the use of your sub weapons. Leon with his whip can do amazing combos from a single target to a roomful of monsters (battling the latter, especially, can be strangely therapeutic). Add this to his skills of double-jumping, dashing, rolling and magic from the relics, playing this particular Belmont can get quite addicting. Everything from old to new, sub weapons included, are spectacular to watch in glorious 3D. So while it may not be the best game in the series, it’s certainly the best-looking.

The battle system isn’t the only thing that’s looking good since Castlevania went 3D. The castle’s gothic interior is beautiful, to say in the least, and the experience is heightened by the accompanying music. If you loved Symphony of the Night’s soundtrack, then you will definitely adore this. Hair-raising chorus, piano, woodwind, strings and more, all converge to set just the right atmosphere for a vampire-hunting adventure.

Lament of Innocence, however, is frustratingly short. And though I ought to be whining that making secret characters won’t make up for that lack since they’d just be going through the same thing, I satisfied myself with this anyway. So yes, I ended up playing Lament of Innocence thrice, with three different characters on each run. I had fun battling the undead and though it can get repetitive and eventually, too easy, the unforgettably horrendous Belzeebub and the last two bosses of the game were always a challenge. I play it again every once in a while, certainly more than three times, even if the story’s execution sucked. Also, I really wish they had put something more into Joachim’s version of the game. His story is just begging to be explored.

COMPLETION TIME: Leon (17:26:02), Joachim (3:54:00), Pumpkin (3:48:50)
HIGHEST LEVEL ACHIEVED: (Search ratios) Leon 100%, Joachim 96.6%, Pumpkin 72.1%
RATINGS: Gameplay 8; Battle 8; Story 5; Visuals 9; Characters 6; Sounds 9; Replay Value 8

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Genso Suikoden IV

Genre: Role Playing Game
Platform: Playstation
Credits: 2004 Konami Computer Entertainment Tokyo, Inc. Screenshots courtesy of Amazon.

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Cover Description:
The Rune of Punishment has passed through the ages cursing its bearers with great power, but at the cost of their lives. The rune finds a new host in the form of a young knight from the Island Nations. Uncover the mysteries of the cursed rune and search out the legendary 108 Stars of Destiny in the battle of a lifetime on the high seas.

It was fun while it lasted, but what next>>> by thundersenshi
There’s no doubt that I enjoyed Suikoden IV while I was playing it, but for every fan of the series, the real question is: did it exceed expectations set after the success of Suikoden III? After all, the end development of III and the beginning of IV was shrouded with enough controversy that would surely keep people talking.

And why wouldn’t they? Consider this: Maruyama, believed by many fans to be the genius behind Suikoden, resigned as chief director of the team just before the development of Suikoden III was finished. For the development of the next installment, Suikoden IV, Junko Kawano was called back in to head the production and character design. This may explain why IV smacks of the very first Suikoden game, as Kawano was the character designer for that as well.

However, Suikoden IV’s backtracking did not end on this note. The whole story takes place in the Island Nations, 150 years before the first game’s setting. It goes even more traditional as the trinity system is nowhere in sight and it focuses on a—once again—silent, singular hero. The artwork is simply a more refined version of the first game.

Even the plot has reverted to something remarkably simpler. The political struggles that have been so prominent in its predecessor are now a mere backdrop for a predictable storyline. Not to say that there’s less politics in this one. After all, Suikoden wouldn’t be Suikoden without warring nations, people or tribes. But playing as the hero, one merely gets the feeling of being thrown into a chain of events without any real direction of your choosing, unlike the leads of Suikoden III who each have their own solid reasons for staying decisive in their chosen paths. Suikoden IV plays it safe and linear, not without twists, but then again, they weren’t something for which I really cared. No surprises here.

What did surprise a lot of the series’ fans (and perhaps, in outrage), however, was the new battle system. Gone are the six-party teams of old—you’re reduced to a 4-man party, but it’s not entirely without perks. While you’re sailing on the ship and open to enemy encounters, three parties can face those pesky sea monsters. That’s right, three parties, and each with four people of your choosing. They can be switched in-between battles, too, but only the party who kills the last enemy gets the experience. Useless? Not at all, when it can work to your advantage by letting your stronger allies weaken tough enemies and letting the lower-leveled allies finish them off. You can also work on strengthening joint attacks of your characters, as the more they are used, the more powerful they get. (Note that these joint attacks sometimes fail...but you get an extremely funny sequence when they do!) But the three-party battles are only applicable so long as you’re on the ship, not on land.

Speaking of that blasted ship...well, that’s exactly what it is, a blasted ship! The thing is tedious to navigate from one island to another, and it wasn’t until five or six hours into the game did I discover that pressing the R1 button would make it go “faster”. And believe me, “faster” isn’t much better than the ship’s originally constipated pace, R1 button or no. Sure it has auto-pilot, but it still hasn’t helped to make you any less sleepy. At least you get something from net fishing while sailing. This also allows you to leave your game for short periods of time for snack breaks and the like as net fishing doesn’t require ship movement, just as long as you’re in the ship.

Ships are also used in battles in the form of firing rune canons. This feature I especially liked, even though in theory, it’s not so different from the old games’ army battles where wins and losses are much like playing rock-paper-scissors. In fact, old battle systems aren’t just limited to your own fighting characters. Fans of Suikoden I will probably get a kick out of the mint-and-mushroom army battle/mini-game that is exactly like the army battles of the first game except that...well, instead of people, you’re working with mints and mushrooms.

There aren’t as much interesting mini-games in this one, aside from the mint-mushroom growing, fishing and the confessional box. Mints and mushrooms can be grown as medicine that can recover HP/MP (and deal other effects besides). In fishing, you can also cook whatever fish you get, although the menu is terribly limited. I was hoping for something like the extremely enjoyable cooking contests in Suikoden II, but sadly, this hope went unrecognized. There is something new in the confessional box, and this idea would have been especially interesting, had the characters been a bit more revealing, or if they had anything juicy to reveal at all. Such characters, unfortunately, are few in Suikoden IV.

Ah, finally we talk about characters. Stupid ship aside, I don’t find anything terribly wrong with Suikoden IV...why then have I managed to forget about this game right after finishing it? Truth be told, after seeing the credits end for Suikoden IV, I had impulsively taken out Suikoden III and played it again. It made me realize that, in terms of visuals, Suikoden IV was certainly an improvement. Well, I still prefer Suikoden III’s 2D-animated opening sequence to Suikoden IV’s 3D, but in-game (of SIV), the characters’ polygons have finally stretched to their full height and the loading time is less. Why then did I feel like I had to play Suikoden III again after it? Was it so unsatisfying?

When I was done and over with Suikoden IV, that was it. No more Hero prancing around in short shorts. I had no urge to replay scenes, or see characters again. I wasn’t even that curious with the characters to begin with. I liked the game while I was playing it, but I find that it was a bit forgettable. While I am active in certain Suikoden fandoms, I was aghast to realize that I couldn’t recognize names of some Suikoden IV characters. I had only played and finished the game this year. I played Suikoden I and II years and years ago and yet I rarely forget important characters from them. Aside from the recurring characters Viki, Jeane (who you can finally use in battle!) and one other (secret!) person, there’s not much else the game has to offer in terms of comprising a unique, unforgettable and motley crew. There’s Lino En Kuldes, I suppose, and the kick-ass lady pirate Kika. And if we’re after unforgettable, then there’s no better candidate than Rita with her stupid Rita-pon game (here’s one girl I’d like to shoot with a rune canon). There aren’t as much interesting relationships and interaction among the people of Suikoden IV, compared to Suikoden III. Hell, I, for one, missed the raunchy bath sequences and the hilarious theatre plays in the latter where you just make fun of your characters. The closest thing you can get to that kind of fun would be the confessional...but as I have already mentioned earlier, the characters aren’t even cooperating much or are just not interesting to begin with. Which is a shame. Suikoden has always been about the 108 stars of destiny, and somehow, throughout the years, they’ve managed to make the most of them well-designed and memorable enough to inspire legions of fans writing a million fanfictions or drawing doujinshi. Suikoden IV is far from a total failure, and surely if this is your first experience of Suikoden then it’s not bad at all...but after the shining success of Suikoden III, one can’t help but expect more.

RATINGS: Gameplay 7; Battle 7; Story 6; Visuals 8; Characters 6; Sounds 7; Replay Value 4

Final Fantasy VII

Genre: Roleplaying Game
Platform: Playstation, Win. 95/98/2000/Me/XP
Credits: 1997 Square Co., Ltd. Screenshots by RPGFan.

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Cover Description:
The Shinra Corporation is draining our planet of its life force. Cloud Strife, a cold-hearted mercenary, accepts a mission from a group of eco-warriors, unaware that it will lead him on a journey that will change not just his life, but the lives of every soul in the universe... Welcome to Final Fantasy VII — an epic adventure on 3 CDs where sorcery and science collide, where friendships are lost and won and where one man can make a difference that lasts forever!

An innovator. A classic. >>> by skysenshi

It has been eight years since I have played Final Fantasy VII, back in the glory days of the Playstation One. It was one of those games that you just do not forget. In fact, during the early years of my web sites, I would pepper the pages with pictures of Cloud and Tifa and even named the Fridge's video game wing after Red XIII. It's a wonder why people never asked why I haven't reviewed Final Fantasy VII when it's usually a must-have for all archive sites. Then again, up until this year, I purposely didn't want to come up with an opinion for it. I mean, what's there to write about that hasn't already been said by all other reviewers? Furthermore, I was afraid that my memory of the game has greatly diminished that it would be difficult to whip up words to describe the experience.

With the release of the DVD movie Final Fantasy: Advent Children, however, I was bound to change my mind. The movie, while obviously not strong enough to satisfy non-FFVII fans or act as a stand-alone production, struck gold. It was then that I began to remember.

Story and Characters
FFVII characters are among the most unforgettable pieces of video gaming history that Square ever served its clients. If you explore the game thoroughly, you'd learn that even the very minor characters had personalities and side stories that can range from hilarious to downright inspirational. I could just recall the laughs I had when the original villains of the Shinra Company would be shown arguing about one bungled project after another. There were even hints of love angles going on in Shinra.

As for your party members, they're a mixed bag. You have a frisky but cute petty-thieving ninja (Yuffie), an angsty vampire (Vincent), an ancient feline (Nanaki/Red XIII), a short-fused engineer (Cid), a fatherly gun-toting tough guy (Barrett), and a talking stuffed toy (Cait Sith). But who could forget the big three, who began the age-old argument of "Tifa versus Aeris"? Fans everywhere seemed to have never gotten over the debate of who deserves to be with the troubled Cloud more: martial arts expert Tifa or the gentle flower lady Aeris? What's even amusing here is the fact that despite Tifa being kick-ass and Aeris being a softie, it's Tifa who's shy and Aeris who's more aggressive when it comes to showing their feelings.

The overall premise of Final Fantasy VII is an epic of grand proportions. What makes up for having a cliché summary is the fact that there are so many aspects of FFVII to explore. Even the little silly things mean so much.

It was the game that defined the Playstation One. You will notice the huge leap from Final Fantasy VI as this was the first Final Fantasy installment that went 3D. It's also the first to have full-motion video sequences. Of course you can't really expect it to be as refined as the next FF that came after it, but you'd know that hard work was definitely poured into the presentation. Replaying my old saved file, I even find the blocky 3D sprites quite adorable now. What I like about this aspect of the game is the fact that the character designs are distinctive. You can identify each and everyone of your party members even if all you'd see are their silhouettes. We all have Tetsuya Nomura to thank for that.

The music is top notch. What do you expect when you put Nobuo Uematsu at the helm of the musical scoring? The pieces One Winged Angel, main villain Sephiroth's background music, and the Main Theme of Final Fantasy VII still manage to give me goosebumps. It's also good that like all FFs, this one retained the overall flavor that past and present FFs have while making a distinct atmosphere that can only be felt here. Those familiar with FFVII would notice that these sounds will be used as kickers for Advent Children.

Gameplay and Battle System
Innovative! It was a huge step that Square took. So huge that even in this century, it's still being used as a standard for future games. Even then, not many games could live up to the standards it set. While the FF series were already known for creative gameplay and battle systems, FFVII just upped the ante by a mile. It's not overly complicated, really, but it provides just enough challenge for gamers from all ages to appreciate. The random encounters, however, can be a tad annoying; nothing that non-wussies can't handle, though.

The battle system introduced rocks/gems/circular glowing thingies called materia. These are classified into different colors, which would also have different purposes. For example, red materia are for summoning powerful deities while green materia are for curative spells. One would equip these materia onto your characters' weapons and armors and they would give you the skills necessary for battle. You can use them as is, or you can use them to dish out powerful materia combos.

What I especially love about FFVII are the Limit Breaks. You can unlock several powerful attacks and unleash them when you're ready to go berserk. What's even niftier is that you can set which Limit Breaks you want to unleash. I have never forgotten the beauty of Cloud's Cross-Slash and Omnislash because of this. FFVII, in my opinion, still has the best Limit Break system in all FFs released.

Of course, I still have a couple of gripes that I hadn't gotten over, especially since my brother and sister keep laughing about these. There's the really nausea-inducing snowboarding quest—all that white is just not healthy for your eyes—and the Temple of The Ancients' rolling rocks that I had to avoid. I always ended up flat on my back so that's one of those times I tore my hair out in frustration.

Quests and Extra Features
There are a lot! This is probably my most explored FF game due to the quests and extras. There's the fun chocobo racing, wherein you raise these cute and cuddly giant fowls for breeding and monetary gains. I still remember how fast my heart palpitated whenever this black chocobo, Teo, would join the race and I'd scream when he'd try to overtake. There's also the famous Golden Saucer, where highly entertaining mini-games can be played for various prizes.

Believe it or not, it seems that a huge chunk of FFVII is all about the subquests. As a matter of fact, the characters that are loved by many, Vincent and Yuffie, can be recruited upon completing certain conditions or quests. The most powerful summoning materia, Knights of Round, can also be acquired when you've bred a golden chocobo, which can fly through areas inaccessible to any other means of transport. Furthermore, every one of your party members' final Limit Breaks can be achieved by participating in mini-games, going island hopping, or whatnot.

Now, if you're one blood-thirsty fiend eager to fight bosses, you can also pick on the "Weapons" or gigantic beasts residing in three areas of the world map. It's better to challenge them without a walkthrough, because that adds a bit more spice to your adventure. I remember my brother and I using tactics that none of the other FAQ writers have ever mentioned and that made victory even sweeter.

This and Final Fantasy VIII have sparked debates between old-school and new-school gamers. I have been a gamer for most of my life—nearly two decades, in fact. I am, nevertheless, thankful for releases such as this. While it's nice to dwell on how satisfying the good ol' days of videogaming were, one should still commend innovation for bringing gaming experiences to monumental heights. I don't think I could go back to the torturous enemy-encounter-every-two-steps time of the first FFs or the no-save nerve-wracking sidescroller of the first Castlevania. Final Fantasy VII in itself opened doors to more creative pursuits. And that, plus the new employment positions that became available due to the new technology it brought about, is enough.

HIGHEST LEVEL ACHIEVED: 99 all characters
RATINGS: Gameplay 10; Battle 10; Story 9; Visuals 7; Characters 10; Sounds 10; Replay Value 10

Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children

Genre: Action, Adventure, Fantasy
Parental Guidance Recommended
Credits: 2005 Takeshi Nozue, Tetsuya Nomura, Square-Enix


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Thundersenshi's Description:
It has been two years since the defeat of Sephiroth, but the Planet still faces the threat of Jenova’s cells contaminating the Lifestream. Geostigma, a non-contagious disease, has plagued people around the world, resulting to pain, weakness, desolation and eventually, death. The future of the planet has never been more grim, and this time, not even hero and ex-SOLDIER Cloud Strife is willing to hope for deliverance.

In the midst of all this, three new adversaries make their appearance, gathering the Advent Children—otherwise known as the youngsters afflicted with Geostigma—in another attempt for a Reunion. Once they get ahold of Jenova’s head, there’s no stopping them from draining the Planet of all its power and what best way to do that than to revive the omnipotent Sephiroth?

You’ll want to whip out your old Playstation after this one. >>> by thundersenshi
First of all, why are you reading this review? Certainly if you’re a gamer, then Advent Children has no need of further introduction. I doubt you’ll need any more prodding to see this movie right away, unless you are a gamer, but have never played Final Fantasy VII at all. In that case, you probably know a few things about it even if you haven’t. Here’s a well-meaning advice: play it now, don’t just rely on the DVD’s extra features for information, because—pardon the cliché—you’re missing half of your life, as far as gaming goes. It’s been eight years since FVII revolutionized the world of console RPGs and the sizzling reception of Advent Children simply reaffirms what we’ve known all along: no one will ever get tired of a true classic like Final Fantasy VII.

But if you’re not a gamer, and you’ve hardly heard of Final Fantasy, well. This puts you in quite a dilemma. You see, enjoyment of Advent Children is 70% nostalgia. You’ll be watching out for the plot and developing characters and you might be disappointed because these have all been established in the actual game. Sure, Kadaj, Loz and Yazoo are new characters, new adversaries, but as Marlene’s little introductory speech hints at the beginning of the movie, the story picks up from where it left off in the game. In fact, the whole movie will keep on bringing in memories from the game—from the soundtrack to the familiar places you’ll be seeing, not just the characters—that will undoubtedly delight FFVII fans to no end. If Advent Children be your first experience of Final Fantasy VII, then you will have to content yourself with the adrenaline-pumping fight scenes that had everyone raving about it. AC may be 3D, and it may not have been rendered as painstakingly detailed as Final Fantasy: Spirits Within (since this was intended for a larger audience, unlike AC which was tailored for the game’s existing fan base), but anyone who has an eye for awesome camera angling of action scenes will be appreciative.

For the game’s fans, however, Advent Children is Christmas Eve. Every character has sufficient exposure, though some more than others, like Tifa, Reno and Rude and Vincent (whom I suspect, was made to look cooler than ever in preparation for Dirge of Cerberus). Reno and Rude made such an impact, that if you didn’t love them before, you’ll fall in love with them now (it doesn’t hurt that Reno looks like a j-rock idol). They remain steadfastly loyal and determined and provide not just comic relief but awesome fighting as well.

In fact, as if you haven’t heard of it yet, AC boasts of superb fight choreography. Everyone was nothing short of fantastic, never mind who won or lost the bouts. As soon as the old characters begin to drop in one by one, they don’t disappoint, and it’s all tingly excitement just watching and waiting for them to do more. I don’t need to remind anyone that these were video game characters, so forget about realistic—those are just kick-ass, eye-popping fight scenes you’ll want to keep on perpetual rewind. From weapons and accessories to limit breaks, every scene will leave you craving for more of the old stuff, intensified ten times more from the last time you saw them back in ’97 when the characters were rough-edged polygons. And Cloud Strife on his bike featured prominently for about 40 minutes of the movie time? Talk about fan service; but of course, I’ll be the last person to complain.

Story-wise, be advised: after seeing the movie, I understand that it isn’t about bringing a new plot into the scene. Halfway through it you’ll realize that there isn’t a new twist, and there’s no new discovery regarding Mako energy or the Lifestream. Sephiroth revived is merely singing the same tune. For some, it will feel like an extended epilogue of the game; the events that followed the game’s ending as reflected in the movie were hardly surprising. But in the two years since the defeat of Sephiroth, the characters have changed. Especially Cloud. And this movie focuses on those changes and his personal realizations, on the decisions he had made thus far since Aeris’ death, Sephiroth was defeated, and Geostigma affected the entire planet. Take aside the highly anticipated reunions and outstanding fight choreography, and one will realize this: Advent Children is closure, if nothing else.

The movie deals heavily with the theme of finding redemption, and to comprehend the true depths of this mission, one must be dearly familiar with the characters involved. Like I said earlier, the key to enjoying this movie is mostly nostalgia—seeing those old faces, just watching them fighting together again, had just made the years of waiting for this movie so much worth it.

(Skysenshi) Editor’s Note: The music is by Nobuo Uematsu, which is why you will recognize that the entire scoring for Advent Children isn ’t much different from the game. In fact, this makes the experience even more compelling. Hearing the piano version of the game’s battle theme while Tifa kicks ass just positively makes me tingle. Take note also that this title comes with freebies like the Last Order OAV.

Individual Rating: Art/Animation 10; Story 7; Characters 10; Sounds 9

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Shadow Lady

Genre: Adventure
Parental Guidance Recommended (Some nudity)
1995 Masakazu Katsura

Shadow Lady Books Editorial Description:
In Gray City, a glorious but crumbling metropolis, a different world exists between night and day. Here we find Aimi Komori, a shy girl with a secret--her magic eyeshadow transforms her into Shadow Lady, an infamous thief who sees Gray City as her own personal playground. Along with her pint-sized, bat-winged sidekick, De-Mo, Shadow Lady turns the menacing metropolis absolutely upside-down!

(3 Tankubon)

Weird, fun romance about a boy and his right-hand girlfriend >>> by MarkPoa
Shadow Lady is Masakazu Katsura's attempt at a kaitou or magical thief manga. With the aid of her magic eye shadow, sweet shy Aimi is transformed into the bouncy and acrobatic Shadow Lady. Her life gets complicated (as if it weren't before) as a love struck policeman, a jealous super heroine, demons, arch demons, and the police try to capture and expose (sorry, couldn't resist the pun) our titular main character.

Art-wise, Shadow Lady hasn't really improved on its predecessors. If you're familiar with Katsura's other works, such as DNA2 or I”s, you'll know what to expect: beautiful female forms, spiky-haired bishounen male protagonists, sexy cleavage and butt shots... err, ahem. They're beautiful to look at, yes, but nothing really new or exciting. This is particularly noticeable in the character designs, where you might notice that Aimi and Bright look like Ami and Junta from DNA2.

Story-wise, Shadow Lady is conveniently separated into 4 story arcs for her Dark Horse release. Each arc can be read entirely on its own, though they segue into one another. The final battle is Dragonball Z-like in its execution: faced with insurmountable odds, Shadow Lady finds the will (and energy) to win.

However, I couldn't shake the feeling that the story seemed lacking somehow. Unlike DNA2 where the ending seemed tacked on... here, the ending seemed rushed.

As a Masakazu Katsura fan, I had high hopes for this series and had to really take the time to find the issues. However, when I eventually got to read it, it wasn't as satisfying as I'd hoped.

Individual Rating: Art 7; Story 5; Characters 6

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Appleseed 2004

Genre: Mecha / Action / Cyberpunk
Parental Guidance Recommended
2004 Masamune Shirow, Shinji Aramaki, TOHO, Digital Frontier, Geneon Entertainment (USA), Inc., Mainichi Broadcasting, Micott & Basara, TBS, TYO, Yamato

Appleseed DVDs
Appleseed Art Books & Manga
Appleseed Original Soundtrack
Appleseed Apparel
Everything Appleseed

Cover Description:
Earth's last city, Olympus, rose from the ashes of a global war on the backs of Bioroids, artificial clones who make up half the city's population. Under the strict guidance of a supercomputer, humanity's last survivors enjoy an idyllic peace, but only on the surface Human terrorists within the military seek a return to power and clash with the government's ESWAT forces lead by the legendary soldier, Deunan Knute, and her boyfriend who is 75% machine. Retrieving the Appleseed will end the conflict, and Deunan alone holds its secret.

The outstanding feature film based on the manga by SHIROW Masamune (Ghost In the Shell), directed by Shinji ARAMAKI (Bubblegum Crisis), and produced by SORI (Ping Pong) features a soundtrack by Boom Boom Satelites, Paul Oakenfold, Basement Jaxx and more and will be available from TOFU records. The DVD will feature high quality video encoded directly from the HD master in 16:9 anamorphic widescreen with 5.1 English Dolby Digital and DTS audio as well as the original Japanese 2.0 stereo and 5.1 DTS Dolby Digital soundtracks! This DVD also features commentary from both the director and the producer!

A future classic. >>> by skysenshi


That was the first thought that came into my head as I watched Deunan throw in one punch after another. With 2D and 3D animation combined, this version of Appleseed brought out some of the best action scenes I ever did see onscreen. The characters’ movements were so fluid—thanks, of course, to motion capture technology—they become reminiscent of The Matrix and its animated counterpart The Animatrix.

Delving further into the subject of animation, you might encounter a lot of things you may not actually like. For instance, with full 3D backgrounds and cel-shaded 3D characters that you aren’t sure if they’re really 2D or 3D—all you can definitely see is that they’ve been put together digitally—you might find the combination a bit awkward. My brother even commented that everything looks lazily done. In retrospect, however, I think that the art and animation are impressive because of the way they capture the feel of the story. And I most definitely will not agree that Reboot looks better, simply because Reboot's character designs don't even look human; and from what I recall of a time long gone, the animation isn't as fluid. In Appleseed 2004, everything’s just so Xenosaga meets Final Fantasy VII meets the goddess of Cyberpunk. That it’s accompanied by a nifty soundtrack is a bonus. The songs are mostly rock music, many of which are in English. I’d like to delve on this further but I haven’t gotten hold of the album just yet.

I like Deunan. That much I can establish. And because I like SailorUranus-type women, who have sound instincts and killer fighting tactics, getting into the story is as easy as slipping on a pair of gloves. (Incidentally, SailorJupiter's voice actress, Emi Shinohara, is cast as the tragic genius Dr. Gilliam.) Sweet-faced tough chick Deunan finds herself in quite a predicament: waking up in a new world were Bioroids, man-made humanoids, keep the balance within society. She is eventually reunited with her lover, only to find that he now sports a robotic body. Later, she unlocks the past and remembers vital events in her childhood that she should have long forgotten because of the danger they pose to the ideal society.

The premise of Utopia in Appleseed is something that I do not find appealing. Bioroids were invented with stunted emotions. The philosophy behind this is that if there’s no love, no feelings, no sex, there would be no hatred, no fighting, no war. And just when you think that the movie becomes cliché—a battle of superiority between races—elements of conspiracies get muddled up and you’ll see ironies piling up like yesterday’s laundry. If you were in Deunan’s place, you’d find a whole heap of dilemmas in your hands that need to be addressed. It may not be too obvious, but this is one cyberpunk title that can essentially become philosophical without resorting to pseudo-complex concepts. You’ll find yourself answering most of the characters’ questions like, “Are humans such a flawed race that they should be considered inferior?” and, “Bioroids were invented to protect humans. Why then should they replace humans?” There's even an additional dilemma to contend with: If you make Bioroids completely human-like, in the sense that they can reproduce, wouldn't that mean activating their emotions-they will be able to feel hatred and have the inclination to start wars? How then would that differentiate them from humans?

Honestly, even though I’ve seen the 80’s Appleseed, I don’t remember much of it except for the funny-looking mechs. Now this new take is something that I know I would remember, despite the persistence of the funny-looking mechs. Hey, at least the mecha look a lot more sophisticated than their 80’s counterpart, with Briareos’ rabbit ears (which Firesenshi complained about in her Appleseed OAV review) being cleverly shadowed! I’m sure it also left quite an impact to those who have already seen it—they either hate it or love it so much that it would leave a permanent imprint on their minds. Then again, I’m just a sucker for wonderfully choreographed fight scenes that these may have skewed my perception of things.

Individual Rating: Art/Animation 8; Story 8; Characters 9 Sounds 9

Saturday, September 3, 2005

Full Moon Wo Sagashite

Genre: Shoujo / Drama / Fantasy / Romance
General Audience
2002 Tanemura Arina, Toshiyuki Kato, TV Tokyo , Studio Deen, NAS

Full Moon Wo Sagashite DVDs
Full Moon Wo Sagashite Art Books & Manga
Full Moon Wo Sagashite Music
Everything Full Moon Wo Sagashite

tsumenki's Description:
Gifted with a golden voice, twelve-year old Kouyama Mitsuki loves to sing more than anything. Unfortunately for her, things aren't as easy as opening her mouth. For starters, her imposing grandmother absolutely abhors music. More importantly, her cancer affects her voice, making it difficult for her to sing. When two shinigami (angels of death) appear from her bedroom wall and inform her that she only has one year to live, Mitsuki's determined to become a singer more than ever, especially since it means fulfilling a promise to a childhood crush. Moved by her situation, the shinigami turn her into a sixteen-year old for one audition, not knowing that her life is about to change. Get ready for Mitsuki (aka Full Moon) -- Japan's newest singing sensation!

(52 Episodes)

One Life to Live (with a Looped Soundtrack). >>> by tsumenki
One caveat -- it's too damn long. I didn't really notice the length as I was going through the whole thing, since it had a pretty good mix of showbiz gossip, family secrets, and (insert orchestral music: ta-da!) big underlying plot theme to keep me interested. But then again, I'm admittedly more patient than most viewers. Still, after I finished it, I was surprised that it took more than fifty episodes to tie the whole thing together (didn't she have one year to live?)

So why did I like it? First, the characters are endearing. Though optimistic, Mitsuki isn't ingratiatingly sweet like most twelve-year old anime heroines. She carries herself with an impressive amount of maturity and determination for her age, making it easy for her to slip into the occasional role of a sixteen-year old teen idol. I particularly liked her seiyuu's voice. It had a full and soothing quality that made it easy for the character's emotions to come alive. My only complaint is that towards the end of anime, Mitsuki's pining for her childhood sweetheart Eichi is enough to make you want to shake her to her senses.

The other characters are good foils to Mitsuki's bright-eyed hopefulness. Meroko, the cute female shinigami, eagerly shows her over-enthusiasm in some episodes and reveals a caring, empathic side in others. Wakaouji-sensei (Mitsuki's doctor) and Ooshige (Full Moon's manager) act as supportive surrogate parents for the almost love-starved little girl. Takuto, in particular, the male shinigami who turns into a stuffed cat every now and then, grounds her with the voice of reason (and partly, with the voice of a jealous suitor). He is arguably the character whose emotions drive the series, especially when the audience begins to piece his background together. His struggle for control over his duties as a shinigami, his feelings for Mitsuki, and his returning memories are integral to the story.

Another thing I'm not too hot about is the music. For a musically-driven anime series, I rather expected to be blown away by the music. The only reason that I find myself singing to Full Moon's songs is because they're repeated over and over again. Mitsuki sings around 2-3 songs throughout the series, roughly the same number of songs Naru sings in her one-episode singing stint in Love Hina. Granted, Full Moon's songs are important to the story's plot, but I guess I was really looking for more feet-tapping, head-bopping rhythms. Still, the most poignant moments of the anime (at least, personally) are the ones that occur when Mitsuki and Takuto are singing acapella (I think most of the songs sound better acapella). Really moving stuff. The art is not consistent in some places, but for the most part, it's not really an issue.

Full Moon wo Sagashite dares its viewers to evaluate life and dreams and family relations. Faced with the fact that she only has a year to live, Mitsuki strives to live each moment to the fullest. While we may never be blessed with a platinum record or a hit single, the anime urges us to take stock of the things that make life worth living.

Individual Rating: Art: 9; Story 8; Characters: 8; Sounds: 7

Thursday, September 1, 2005

Xenosaga Episode II: Jenseits von Gut und Bose

Genre: Cinematic RPG / "Interactive Movie"
Platform: Playstation 2
Credits: 2005 NAMCO, Monolith Japan. Screenshots by RPGFan

Xenosaga Games
Xenosaga DVDs
Xenosaga Books
Xenosaga Toys
Xenosaga Music
Xenosaga Fashion
Xenosaga Item Shop
Cover Description:
To save the future...YOU MUST UNCOVER THE PAST.

Four thousand years into a war-torn future, Earth has been abandoned and mankind forges its existence in deep space, locked in an epic battle for survival against the malevolent, alien Gnosis.

The search continues for the Zohar, a legendary artifact rumored to be capable of eradicating the Gnosis and ushering in an era of universal peace. Join Shion, KOS-MOS and their companions in the enthralling 2nd chapter of this landmark multi-part RPG saga.

It gets worse... >>> by skysenshi

Xenogears was such a beautiful, wonderful experience. I’m not really sure if it was because of Squaresoft’s magic touch or because at the time it was made, its development team might have been at the height of their inspirational moment. It wasn’t perfect, but it sure left quite an impact. Fast forward years later — the development team moved firms and Xenosaga, the spin-off was born. Xenosaga I wasn’t perfect either. In fact, it declined a bit from the standards that Xenogears set. But it wasn’t a bad game. Sure, I would’ve wanted better-looking mechs that would be stronger than my regular characters, but the game had its redeeming qualities. Xenosaga II, its sequel, however, just guaranteed that I would never touch another Xeno-related game again.

Spectacular! Nothing short of amazing, especially since it improved the graphical quality that the first Xenosaga set. Shion lost her ditzy look, along with her glasses. Though I think it was quite a shame that those dorky glasses, which were the only things I liked about Shion in the first installment, had disappeared, the trade-off was quite welcome. Everyone looked realistic and even KOS-MOS seemed hotter than ever. Many of the voice actors may have changed, but I don’t think the quality of the sounds suffered either. The background music considerably improved also. I especially love the Celtic-inspired chants you can hear at the title screen.

I personally thought that Xenosaga has outdone a lot of games in the audiovisual department…that is, until I saw my boyfriend playing Prince of Persia: Warrior Withinon his X-Box.

Story and Characters
If you didn’t comprehend a lot of things in Xenosaga I, you’ll find deeper understanding in this episode. Many of the characters, whom you’d think are nothing but support, actually have become more significant. You’ll learn more about Junior, Momo, Ziggy, and how their lives are interrelated with the rest of the Xenosaga cast — including the villains. You’ll also be introduced to new team members, such as Shion’s brother Jin Uzuki, who bears a striking resemblance to Xenogears’ Citan Uzuki. (No, they aren’t related because Citan’s real name is Hyuuga. Unless, by some amazing twist in the soon-to-be-released episodes, we’ll be told that Citan is actually Jin’s clone, well…) The tradition began in Xenosaga, where you aren’t really sure who’s the main hero anymore, is continued. I prefer this kind of story-telling, as it veers away from narcissistic, overexposed protagonists. It also adds more dimension to your overall plot.

One really nice feature they added with regards to the story is the recap. Every time you reload your game, a screen is shown telling you what transpired the last time you played. I love this because there had been times when I was too busy with work that it’d take me weeks to get back to my game. Of course, I’d like to know where I stopped so that I can remember what I’m supposed to do next.

Gameplay and Battle System

This area is where this game suffers most. The combos still exist, all right. For a game released by the same name behind Tekken, however, it’s quite ironic that you are given mind-numbing combos to work with. Your combinations are, where T = triangle and S = square: TTSS, TSTS, SSTT, STST. For chained combos, you get to use…gasp! Circles! I cannot count the number of times my sarcastic side kept muttering, “Wow! So imaginative!” On top of that, I couldn’t believe that my weak party members in XS1 became my kick-ass fighters here. And they do not even have to do combos.

The battle system is skill-based. Meaning, you have to get a certain number of points to unlock certain skills. This is a great idea because it gives you the opportunity to mold your party members the way you want them to be. You can give them all healing and curative skills, while developing offense and defense units at the same time. The only silly thing I can see here is that I believe it’s stupid for me to have to unlock skills I already had in XS1. While I was unlocking Chaos’ Arctic Blast skill, I was scratching my head and murmuring, “Didn’t I already have Arctic Blast in the last game? And if the continuity of the storyline should be followed, it would mean that I had Arctic Blast only hours ago. Why am I unlocking something that I had only hours ago?”

Party members can also do linked combos, although I never really found that useful. I made better use of the stocking system, another Xenogears concept that has you saving turns for more powerful combos, and the boost system. Another useful element added to the battle system was the fact that you can actually change your positions while engaged in combat. If you want to do a pincer attack, simply move your hardest hitter at the back of the enemy to double his/her power. The one thing you have to consider now, in order to determine who your hardest hitter is gonna be, is to first find out what your enemy is weak against. Each party member has its own strength and weaknesses in combat. Like for instance, Gnosis are vulnerable to Shion's attacks.

The eggs—err, A.G.W.S.—are gone. You now get to use the prettier E.S. Robots, which require two pilots. It’s not much improvement, but at least now you get to actually use them in E.S.-only combat, unlike in XS1 where you can opt to use your regular team to battle giant robots.

The good and the bad things about the battle system are negligible. For one thing, you will have very few battles. I actually mastered the system near the end of the first disc. My sister was at the second disc already when she did so. In fact she was aghast when she got to the second disc because she didn’t realize the game would be that fast.

Quests and Extra Features
The sub quests are boring. You run around doing errands for people, which is easy enough, but it’s too simple. There’s an Extra Game mode, wherein you get to repeat the game, with beefed up features this time, after you finish it the first time around. It takes force of will to finish it the first time around as this game has one of the worst replay values. The thought of going through it again just makes me shudder. The timed quests are also trite and repetitive. I mean, timed quests where you have to get back to the entrance of the dungeon/building/ship before it blows up in N minutes were cute in the days of Konami World. Now it’s just plain irritating. Tell me, is there any particular reason why you have to catch 10 rodents in 2 minutes? And if you don't succeed, you can repeat it all over again, which is dumb. Why have a time limit if you'll repeat it again anyhow? Can we just leave the timed quests back in the 80s and concentrate on making better quests, sub quests, and mini-games next time?

Like XS1, this is filled with cinematics and it’s very short. Many of the features already in XS1 are in XS2, and only those that I noted in this review are the ones that have been changed. The gaming experience worsened. I’m like, “Game? What game?” If you notice, I was pleased with the story, characters and audiovisuals but gave XS2 a biting evaluation in gameplay features. That only means one thing. Somebody ought to develop an animated or televised series for this so that we can ditch the interactive movie route. Or market it as an interactive movie, and not an RPG, as there isn’t much role-playing or activity going on.

COMPLETION TIME: 16:35 hours
RATINGS: Gameplay 6; Battle 6; Story 8; Visuals 9; Characters 8; Sounds 9; Replay Value 4

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