Persona 3 The Movie: Spring of Birth Review

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My video game backlog continues to grow because there aren’t enough hours in the day to complete everything I buy. Perhaps I should consider migrating over to Persona 3’s world, because over there days last for a total of twenty-five hours. Sandwiched in between midnight and 1am is the Dark Hour were machinery goes dormant and much of the populace get transported into coffins, where they are forced to hibernate for a total of sixty minutes. The only people unaffected by this phenomenon are the select few who command the power of Persona. Able to summon mystical beings, they patrol the streets of Iwatodai City protecting citizens against the Shadow creatures that manifest when midnight strikes.

OVERVIEW

Watching Makoto Yuki do his thing, in this anime adaptation of the hit JRPG, makes me thankful for picking the female protagonist over him in Persona 3 Portable. The Emo hairdo he sports suits his personality to a tee. Makoto is rude to those around him and is so apathetic that he doesn’t even show concern when his life is put in mortal danger. His one saving grace is that he is able to command multiple Personas, making him highly effective at taking down Shadows. Those skills are what saw him get recruited by a team of adolescent Shadow slayers known as SEES (Specialized Extracurricular Execution Squad.) With Makoto in tow, SEES begin to explore the mysterious Tartarus Tower for clues on the origin of Shadows.

Despite being a fan of the Persona 3 video game I found this movie a little dull. I guess that can’t be helped because it is the first part of a four film series. As a result what we get is mostly setup. Many of the game’s notable villains have yet to make an appearance and my favourite robot waifu Aigis is limited to a post credits teaser. On the plus side the soundtrack is top notch, borrowing several of the RPG’s catchy tunes. The production values are also impressive, boasting great artwork and animation. On the visual side of things I liked the eerie green hue that colours the environment during the Dark Hour segments. Replacing black with jade makes the action easier to see. Usually when watching an anime set at night I can’t follow what is going on unless I crank up the contrast ratio.

VERDICT

My rating for Persona 3 The Movie: #1 Spring of Birth is a two out of five. Overall I thought the movie was mediocre, which will leave anyone unfamiliar with the JRPG wondering why the source material is so highly lauded. Some fans may appreciate an abridged version of Persona 3 that can be consumed without replaying an eighty-hour epic, but I personally was disappointed with the end product. Condensing a lengthy game into a ninety-minute feature meant that sacrifices had to be made. On a regular basis the narrative jumps ahead several days, so I don’t hold much hope that the game’s enjoyable side quests will get much coverage in this adaptation. After a while I began to lose interest and by the end I started to nod off on my comfy sofa.

Hopefully things will pick up in the sequels. One positive about this slow start is that it will deter impressionable youngsters from watching the film. That’s a good thing because we don’t want kids mimicking Makoto and chums by blowing their brains out. In case you didn’t know summoning Personas involves putting a pistol shaped evoker to your temple and pulling the trigger! That’s just asking for trouble. Whoever came up with the crazy idea of shooting yourself with a gun deserves to be “fired.”

Given how enjoyable Persona 4: The Animation was I cannot help but wonder if Persona 3 would have worked better as a series. This flick even feels like three episodes stuck together. Makoto transferring to a new school and awakening his powers could have been the first episode. Episode two could have been the part where jealous Junpei Iori tries to prove that he is Makoto’s equal by rushing into a haunted train. The finale, were SEES enter Tartarus to save a girl who has been trapped there by her classmates, could have been episode three. Wow, Japanese students are cruel. During my school days I was the victim of insults and physical abuse, but no one ever locked me inside a spooky tower. People who toss innocents into a ghost filled structure are the worst kind of boo-lies… um bullies.

Review of Ant-Man

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It’s a shame that Spider-Man is Marvel’s most recognisable character because ants are by far my favourite insect. Huh? What’s that? Spiders aren’t insects? Bah, shut up. No one likes a smart aleck. Anyways, for those of you who don’t know Ant-Man (Hank Pym) is a superhero that can shrink in size and command bugs to do his bidding. Back in the eighties Pym retired from public life, as he feared that the tech responsible for his powers could fall into the wrong hands. Twenty years later Pym gets word that his protégée Darren Cross has designed a suit capable of turning soldiers into deadly Lilliputians. Cross plans to sell his invention to some unsavoury characters, so it falls on Pym to steal the suit before the transaction can be finalized. Hank is however too old for this shit.

OVERVIEW

Like an elderly Bruce Wayne passing the mantle of Batman to Terry McGinnis, crotchety Hank Pym needs to find some new blood to don his Ant-Man jumpsuit. He sets his sights on a thief named Scott Lang, who has previously served time for breaking into Vista Corp’s high security headquarters. Making the protagonist a common criminal may be controversial, but the writers succeed in portraying Lang as a charismatic rogue. Not only is Scott a loving father, but it’s also revealed that the heist he committed was justified. Like a modern day Robin Hood, Lang broke into Vista Corp to refund monies that the company had been covertly siphoning away from unsuspecting clients. Man, where was this guy when Barclays pickpocketed my account with sneaky bank charges?

The movie’s final act sees the new Ant-Man infiltrate Cross’ empire with the aims of pilfering his prototype Yellow Jacket suit and purging all research data pertaining to the project. Before that Pym coaches Lang in the intricacies of height manipulation and ant warfare. The training montage in question is rather humorous, even by Marvel standards. No surprise given that funny man director Edgar Wright was the chap who championed an Ant-Man live action film in the first place. Wright didn’t helm the movie himself though, after severing ties with Marvel over creative differences. That’s the same reason a furious Ed Norton cited for leaving the role of Bruce Banner. Don’t make Norton angry. You wouldn’t like him when he is angry.

VERDICT

My rating for Ant-Man is a four out of five. Despite focusing exclusively on superheroes I like how Marvel Studios make their movies feel distinct. Ant-Man for example is more of a heist caper than a traditional costumed vigilante tale. Much of the film’s comedy revolves around the banter Hank and Scott share. Paul Rudd (Lang) delivers the wisecracks whilst Michael Douglas (Pym) plays the duo’s sarcastic straight man. Thanks to Ant-Man’s stature altering talents the action sequences are like nothing I have ever seen before. One showdown takes place inside a briefcase for instance and the movie’s finale sees Lang trade blows with Cross atop a Thomas the Tank Engine toy. Gripes! I don’t think the Fat Controller would approve of that behaviour.

Speaking of Darren Cross, the follicly challenged villain lamentably fits into the underdeveloped Marvel antagonist mould. The writers do however succeed in making Cross a despicable prick that you want to hate. Not only does he experiment on cute lambs, but he also murders a beloved sidekick later on in the film. Corey Stoll wasn’t given much material to work with, but still did a decent job playing the bald evil entrepreneur. Where was this guy when Lex was being cast in Batman versus Superman? Anyways, overall I had a great time watching Ant-Man. Not bad given that a hero who talks to insects sounds goofy. If they made this work maybe Aquaman, who talks to fishes, will be okay too? You must admit that communicating with dolphins is a lame power. Huh? What? Dolphins aren’t fish? Grrr. What did I say earlier about being a know it all?

Psycho-Pass: Mandatory Happiness Review

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Psycho-Pass: Mandatory Happiness is a visual novel based on the critically acclaimed cyberpunk anime. The story occurs sometime during the events of season one, which is just as well because most viewers consider series two to be a tad disappointing. I attribute the downturn in quality to a change of writer. For those of you who are unaware, a scribe who is known for gritty science fiction penned Psycho-Pass’ second instalment. The original Psycho-Pass was however written by a lighthearted chap named Gen Urobuchi, whose past works include a puppet show and cute magical girl cartoons. If you are in need of jolly entertainment I recommend checking out Madoka Magica. From the two episodes I have seen it appears to be just like Sailor Moon, but cuter.

OVERVIEW

If you dislike reading Mandatory Happiness is not the game for you. Makes sense given that visual novels are pretty much “choose your own adventure” books that have been enhanced with graphics and audio. I figure it is worth stating the obvious though, because a few months back I saw a website bash Steins;Gate 0 for having too much text. Insert face palm here. Anyways, upon commencing the game players are given the option of experiencing the story from the perspective of two rookie Public Safety Bureau agents. Inspector Nadeshiko (nicknamed Ms. Droid) is an emotionless amnesiac who tackles cases with logic. Enforcer Tsurugi, who is seeking his missing childhood friend, on the other hand uses his heart to decide what is right.

Mandatory Happiness’ plot spans across a total of four chapters. With the assistance of the Psycho-Pass team players will be expected to rescue kidnap victims, locate a rogue AI and tangle with youths who have barricaded themselves inside a school. How each investigation pans out depends on the choices you make. Decisions also affect your character’s mental hue, which is important because the Sybil System monitors the mood of Japan’s populace. Anyone who becomes emotionally unstable, which can occur when dealing with the stresses of law enforcement, runs the risk of being branded a latent criminal and having their freedoms revoked. Thankfully in game you can combat anxiety by taking supplements. In real life I prefer to unwind with booze or a Snickers.

VERDICT

As a fan of the anime I enjoyed my time with Psycho-Pass: Mandatory Happiness. Interacting with the season one cast and solving mysteries was cool. When compared to other visual novels however I have to say that there are better titles out there for the PS4 and Vita. With that in mind I am awarding the game three stars. My first few playthroughs were enjoyable, but unlocking all fourteen endings was a bit of a chore. Unlike other VNs, which have branching storylines, Psycho-Pass’ narrative is more linear than a Final Fantasy XIII level. The choices you make influence what ending you get, a few key scenes and not a lot else. Replaying the game therefore became a ponderous exercise of skipping previously read dialogue until some new content popped up.

One neat thing about Psycho-Pass: Mandatory Happiness is that you are in effect getting two games for the price of one. Hidden in the extras menu is a mini-game that awards points, which can be exchanged for bonus artwork. Said puzzler is pretty much Threes/2048, with the only difference being that the numbered tiles display chibi faces of the Psycho-Pass characters. As someone who missed out on the Threes craze it was nice to finally see why so many people find this tile merging brainteaser to be addictive. I doubt that the development team at Sirvo approves of their game being plagiarised in this manner, but its unlikely to harm their finances as the Apps store is already brimming with unsanctioned clones that you can download for Three… um I mean free.

Captain America: Civil War Review

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Captain America: Civil War? More like Avengers 3 if you ask me. This 2016 flick features virtually every hero from the Marvel cinematic universe, with the only notable omissions being Hulk and Thor. Based on recent Ragnarok photos I have seen, the thunder god has taken time off to get a haircut. Meanwhile Bruce Banner is leading the life of a “lonely man” after ditching Black Widow (insert sad piano tune here.) Instead of battling evil, this time round the Avengers have assembled to brawl amongst them selves. Superheroes squaring off against each other is all the rage these days. Thankfully the billed Civil War is much more satisfying to watch that the underwhelming tussle between DCs two most famous cape wearers.

OVERVIEW

When an Avengers mission in Africa ends with the accidental loss of civilian lives the Sokovia Accords are established. Said accords decree that the Avengers will have to limit their future activities to UN sanctioned assignments. The new law causes the team to fragment into two factions, headed by Captain America and Iron Man respectively. Tony Stark is guilt tripped by a bereaved mother into supporting the new measures whilst Steve Rogers opposes the treaty. Cap isn’t playing ball because the authorities are attempting to assassinate his chum Bucky Barnes (Winter Soldier) for crimes he unwillingly committed whilst under the indoctrination of Hydra. The Nazis brainwashed Barnes into hating carriages so much that uttering the line “freight car” turns him into a mindless killer.

How do our heroic role models resolve the impasse? Reach a compromise through diplomacy perhaps? Nah, screw that. Let’s have a battle royale at the airport instead! The ensuing costumed punch-up features the likes of Falcon, War Machine, Hawkeye and a couple of new faces. First up is Wakandan monarch Black Panther who seeks vengeance against Barnes (the man he believes is responsible for killing his dad.) The other debutant is Spider-Man, who swings into a Marvel movie because Fox have accepted they are incapable of making a decent wall crawler film. Based on this showing I am excited for Homecoming. Tom Holland is perfect in the role of geek that can rattle off quips under a mask. His aunt is also sexier than the old ditty I recall from the comics.

VERDICT

My rating for Captain America: Civil War is five stars. If Internet speculation is to be believed that score qualifies me for a cheque from Disney. You know, the fabled bribe critics get for bashing DC movies and praising anything Marvel. The reality however is that Marvel Studios deserve all the plaudits they are getting. Civil War was thoroughly enjoyable from start to finish. The action was spectacular and thanks to the 147-minute running time the writers had ample time to delve into the motivations of each character. As events unfold audiences are shown why Stark, who has previously had contempt for the military, supports the Sokovia Accords and the reasons that compelled patriotic Steve Rogers to go rogue.

Usually when a movie has a big cast someone gets lost in the shuffle, but I must say that Civil War did an admirable job of sharing out the screen time. Even comic relief Ant-Man is given the opportunity to make a “big” impression. Civil War also fared better than most Marvel movies in the villain department. Helmut Zemo may not possess superpowers or the charisma of Loki, but I was still impressed by the manner in which he engineers the Avengers fallout. Unlike Lex Luthor in Batman vs Superman, Zemo is successful in bringing Earth’s mightiest heroes to their knees through infighting… and he did so without the assistance of Jolly Ranchers or jars filled with urine. No, I am not “taking the piss” that really did happen in Dawn of Justice. Urgh. No wonder that screenplay got a Razzie.

Review of Brave Dungeon

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Right now everyone is going gaga over the Nintendo Switch, but I am too much of a cheapskate to buy new hardware so I’ll continue to play on my 3DS… an old 3DS at that! Given my frugal nature, I often scour the e-shop for good deals. A few days ago my bargain hunt uncovered an inexpensive gem titled Brave Dungeon. For just under a fiver I got my mitts on a game that contains two of my favourite things in the whole world – turn based RPG combat and cute anime girls! The game’s premier waifu is a scythe wielding treasure hunter named Al who players need to guide, as she navigates dungeons in search of precious magical items.

OVERVIEW

Al’s spelunking adventure will see her traverse a total of five dungeons. Like a Megaman boss selection screen, you are able to tackle each level in any order you desire. Be aware however that enemies get progressively tougher each time Al descends down to a dungeon’s lower floor. If your party wipes don’t despair though, because the game has no death penalty. Whenever the player’s group is rendered unconscious Al is whisked back to the safety of town, where she can regroup and select an easier location to level at. How I wish that Dark Souls were this merciful. What do you mean I have lost an hour’s worth of souls just because I stepped on a concealed trap? Damn you Miyazaki!!!

If you detest random encounters you’ll be pleased to hear that Brave Dungeon doesn’t have any. Combat only occurs when Al steps on a monster tile. It’s impossible to bypass battles forever though, as a locked door blocks the stairway leading down to the next level. To unlock the exit Al needs to locate the floor’s key, which predictably is protected by a powerful guardian. Once a floor has been completely mapped out you get the ability to escape from battles, but I seldom took advantage of that option. Why miss out on valuable experience points? Besides, fleeing from a fight is cowardly and like Marty McFly I won’t tolerate anyone calling me a chicken.

VERDICT

My rating for Brave Dungeon is four stars. The game is a fun bite sized dungeon crawler that should appeal to retro gamers. It only takes around seven hours to clear the story, which is a fair length given the game’s low retail price. Best of all additional content gets unlocked once the final boss is vanquished. Not only does a bonus dungeon open up, but you also get access to some mini-games and New Game Plus. In terms of visuals I liked Brave Dungeon’s sixteen-bit pixel art and cute character designs. The foes you come across are so adorable that I almost felt bad about pelting them with offensive magic. For the greater good I was however forced to slaughter a horde of penguin torpedoes, cartoony spectres and muscular snowmen.

Brave Dungeon is a good game for fledgling RPG players because it isn’t too tough. Spending currency, procured via dungeon exploration, on stat boosts turns Al and chums into overpowered mob slayers. Trading loot for restaurant tokens also helps augment your team’s strength. Said eatery cooks meals that raise attack, defence, mind and agility. Which attribute gets increased is a mystery though because, like a McDonalds manned by inept staff, the food you get served is chosen at random. With minimal effort I completed the game using a team comprising of Al, the fairy healer and… a cat girl. Who can resist the allure of feline femmes? I can’t and the same goes for the folks who pledged $900k towards the Nekopara Kickstarter. For the record, I didn’t donate towards that project. As mentioned before, when it comes to spending cash I am a skinflint.

Review of Doctor Strange

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Peter Parker, Steve Rogers, Tony Stark. I am usually quite good at memorizing the secret identities of superheroes, but for some reason I always forget Doctor Strange’s first name. Wow, I guess it is really true that when you’re strange no one remembers your name. Thankfully, for reviewing purposes, I can still recall this film’s premise. Doctor Strange, played by the talented Benedict Cumberbatch, is a gifted surgeon who is forced to retire when his hands get crushed in an automobile crash. The irreparable nerve damage he sustained causes Strange’s fingers to twitch more than me after one too many coffees. When medical science fails to treat his injury Strange decides to research magic in the hopes of uncovering a cure.

OVERVIEW

After receiving a tip off, from a paraplegic who can amazingly walk, Strange travels to Nepal in search of his own miraculous remedy. There he encounters an expert in the mystical arts known as the Ancient One. Under her tutelage he begins to learn astral projection, teleportation and other cool spells. Strange initially struggles to master sorcery, but thanks to his photographic memory he eventually absorbs enough knowledge to become one of the Ancient One’s top students. Man, I really envy Doctor Strange. How I long for a photographic memory, as I can be rather absent minded when it comes to recalling facts. For example, would you believe that I have completely forgotten the lead character’s forename?

Eventually the titular Doctor Strange assumes the mantle of sorcerer supreme and vows to protect Earth from evil using his wizardry skills. The global threats Strange battles in this flick are the Ancient One’s former protégé Kaecilius and a demon from another dimension named Dormammu. As is often the case with Marvel films neither antagonist is particularly compelling. Kaecilius, who desires immortality, is similar to Thor’s nemesis Malekith. They both look menacing and they both lack personality. Dormammu on the other hand is reminiscent of the live action Galactus (Fantastic Four) and Parallax (Green Lantern.) What’s the deal with turning epic villains into a miasma that barely gets any screen time? I can’t get excited about evil clouds.

VERDICT

My rating for Doctor Strange is four and a half stars. Watching this movie was a bit like the time I checked out Thor. I am not a fan of the comics starring Strange or the Norse deity, but I ended up loving both their movies all the same. The two-hour running time whizzed by thanks to the strong acting and comedic moments, which star Strange’s sentient cape and a straight-faced monastery librarian named Wong. Another highlight of note would have to be the action scenes. Given that the movie features conjurers, who can warp the fabric of reality, it should come as no surprise that Strange’s battles draw inspiration from stuff like the Matrix and Inception. Said sequences are creatively shot and very trippy… good thing then that I didn’t munch on any hash brownies during my screening.

I’ll conclude this review by getting on my soapbox and saying that all the hubbub about the Ancient One’s casting was unwarranted. Tilda Swinton kicked ass in this movie and I have no complaints regarding her portrayal of Strange’s wise mentor. Critics grumbling about the character being changed from Asian to Caucasian are hypocrites, because no one chastised the studio for altering the skin colour of Strange’s ally Karl Mordor. Ah whatever, let’s not dwell on negativity. Doctor Strange is excellent and I highly recommend it. Watching this film takes me back to the days when I would pretend to be a superhero. My crime-fighting alias was Goldfish Man. I possessed the power of super forgetfulness. Can you believe that I don’t remember Dr Strange’s first name?

A King’s Tale: Final Fantasy XV Review

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At long last I played Final Fantasy XV… A King’s Tale: Final Fantasy XV that is! The slave drivers at work decreed that I should suffer seven successive night shifts, so I haven’t had time to play a lengthy RPG. I did however have the opportunity to complete this ninety-minute freebie, which was originally a Game Stop pre-order bonus. Now available to download off PSN, A King’s Tale is a retro styled 2D brawler chronicling how a young King Regis protected the land from a monster invasion. The game’s narrative is presented as a bedtime story told by Caucasian Regis to his Asian looking son Prince Noctis. There’s something suspicious about that. Is the Queen’s postman Japanese by any chance?

OVERVIEW

This pre-slumber tale begins ironically enough in the capital city of Insomnia, where monarch Regis Lucis Caelum uses his magical powers and swordsmanship to fend off a daemon assault. From there he ventures out to the plains of Duscae where he scraps with hostile flora and fauna, which include dancing cacti. Finally our hero ventures into a nearby cave to vanquish the final boss, who happens to be a hentai tentacle monster. All the stages I have described are brought to life via gorgeous pixel art, a graphic style that seems to be all the rage these days. Doesn’t it feel great to spend hundreds of pounds on a state of the art console just to play stuff that looks like something from the Super Nintendo era?

Combat in A King’s Tale is simplistic, but never dull due to its fast paced nature. Enemies swarm Regis from all sides so you’ll have to quickly decide who to target and what attack to use. Every foe you encounter has a specific weakness that needs to be exploited. Light attacks can reflect projectiles back at creatures for example, whilst heavy swipes are required to breach the defences of Samurai. Those pesky skeletons from Golden Axe are back and if you wish to crack their skulls you’ll first need to stun them with a shield bash, or else they will block your melee combos. Regis can also cast elemental magic to melt the Flans that are resistant to physical damage. Eat fireballs you evil desserts!

VERDICT

My rating for A King’s Tale: Final Fantasy XV is three and a half stars. When compared to other old school looking beat-em-ups I have to say that A King’s Tale was more fun to complete than the recently released Double Dragon 4. The game rewards skilful play by allowing Regis to call upon the aid of allies, should he manage to evade damage long enough to perform an uninterrupted combo. Compare that to Double Dragon 4 were players simply spam hurricane kicks to counter the obnoxiously cheap AI. Thank goodness that Double Dragon 4 isn’t VR compatible, because all that aerial spinning would have caused me to hurl faster than a US president dining at a Japanese banquet.

If you enjoy fighting games from the 16 bit era A King’s Tale is worth a go. You have nothing to lose as the game is gratis and it isn’t a big time investment either, as the story can be cleared in just over an hour. Anyone left wanting more will be happy to learn that besting the main campaign unlocks a new mode, which contains additional stages/challenges to tackle. Overall I had a grand time with A King’s Tale and am happy that it no longer is a Game Stop exclusive. That company doesn’t deserve my patronage, as they are guilty of underhanded practices (such as removing coupons from their Deus Ex stock.) Don’t tamper with the contents of a game without the buyer’s consent! In the words of Adam Jensen – “I never asked for that.”