Review of Bamboo Blade (Part 1)

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If you took a quick look at my anime collection it would soon become apparent that I have been neglecting a popular genre in the world of Japanese cartoons. My DVD library is devoid of sport shows, which is a crying shame as during my teens I did enjoy watching a number of sporting cartoons broadcast on Spanish TV. Magico Dan amazingly made dodge ball look exciting whilst the over the top Captain Tsubasa was a huge hit thanks to its teen drama and over the top action (I lost count how many nets got torn to shreds by soccer balls kicked with superhuman ferocity.) Sadly none of those shows have got a UK release, but I recently did manage to remedy my sport collection drought by purchasing part one of Bamboo Blade.

This two-disc set contains the first half of a twenty-six episode series, which revolves around a high school’s female kendo team. It seems odd that Manga Entertainment would bring over an anime about an obscure samurai like fencing competitive event, especially when there are so many other cartoons featuring popular sports like boxing, football and tennis, but I’m glad that they did. It’s got everything you could ask for with a story all about team work, likeable characters and most importantly some charming comedy.

Bamboo Blade’s tale starts off with Kojiro Ishida, a part time schoolteacher who runs Muroe High’s after school kendo club. Kojiro was an accomplished kendo fighter, back in his youth, but his passion for the sport seems to have waned in recent years. After a poor season the club’s membership has shrunk to one with the senior girls quitting to concentrate on exams, whilst a bully has scared off the male club members. These days Kojiro spends more time worrying about his poor finances and empty belly than coaching the noble sport. Ishida’s enthusiasm for kendo is rekindled however when one of his buddies, who runs his own kendo club, challenges Muroe High’s squad to an exhibition match.

If Kojiro’s team can come away the victor his pal has agreed to treat him to free sushi dinners, which will literally save his life. Due to his enormous debt Kojiro is on a permanent diet, unable to pay for meals and restricted to rations made up of snacks donated by concerned students. Thus the quest to rebuild the kendo club begins. Kojiro is aided by, the hyper energetic, Kirino Chiba (who is the club captain by default as she’s the team’s solitary member.) It isn’t long though before they recruit Miyako Miyazaki, Tamaki Kawazoe and Sayako Kuwahara to the cause allowing the fun and games to begin.

What makes Bamboo Blade a joy to watch would have to be the characters. They all have their unique quirks that have to be overcome if they wish to bond into a championship winning kendo team. Of the new recruits the softly spoken Tamaki is the star player, given that her father runs a kendo dojo where she competes against adults. She’s not interested in joining the club at first, but her strong sense of justice (nurtured by watching a superhero show reminiscent of Power Rangers) convinces her to stick around and protect the place from bullies. Although Bamboo Blade boasts an ensemble cast a good chunk of the story emphasizes how the reserved Tama opens up by spending time with her new friends.

One of the characters that made me laugh the most would have to be Miya, the seemingly sweet polite girl who only joins because her boyfriend asked her to help the club out with their low staffing levels. Secretly though she has a dark side which gets a kick out of kendo, as it gives her the opportunity to pummel people with wooden sticks. A recurring gag in the series is how she transforms from an innocent girl to the devil incarnate (complete with an evil aura) whenever someone rubs her the wrong way. The other new recruit is Saya who is one fickle girl. Her hobby of choice is in a constant state of flux. She used to be part of the kendo team, but left it briefly to pursue a career in writing. By the end of this DVD set she has already given up on that dream and decided to become a guitarist instead (even though she has no talent for it.)

I’m giving Bamboo Blade four stars and was tempted to give it full marks even if from a technical standpoint it is nothing out of this world. The animation is merely adequate and its not especially original, but like Muroe High’s team the series is stronger than the sum of its parts. The show is abundant in feel good slice of life moments that will put a smile on your face. Even if you aren’t a fan of kendo you’ll be amused by the funny episode previews, watching the usually composed Tama stress out at her shop keeping part-time job and badass Miyo having to contend with a stalker.

From the above-mentioned synopsis you may be wondering if the sporting side of things goes anywhere and I can confirm that it does, even if at times it is not the focus of the series. Kojiro’s practice match against his friend’s team is dealt with early on and by the time the second disc ends the team is training for an upcoming tournament. Success in the competition is vital as Kojiro needs to prove his worth to the school board or else he may get made redundant. The problem is that the club is still lacking a fifth member for the squad. They’ve identified a potential candidate (a clumsy bespectacled girl named Satori) but when episode thirteen concludes its not clear if she will join, as she has to concentrate on improving her grades.

That’s quite a cliffhanger to entice you into buying the second DVD set… but unnecessary as I’ve enjoyed the show immensely thus far and am keen to watch more of it. I can heartily recommend Bamboo Blade to anime fans and I would assume sword enthusiastic pandas would like it too.

Review of Storm the Train (iPad)

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Storm the Train is one of those video games that does exactly what it says on the tin (that is if it came packaged in a metal container as opposed to being downloadable from the iTunes store.) The game sees players controlling one of three special agents who land on top of a runaway locomotive and then have to fight their way through the train’s menace filled carriages. The trio of heroes are Mason the mighty African American who can take the most damage, Carrera the speedy female and Caucasian Graham who is a good all rounder. Hurrah for sexist/racist playable character archetypes – it takes me back to the days of Streets of Rage.

GAMEPLAY

The game would best be described as a simplified Megaman clone given that you spend your time running forward, jumping over dangers and blasting anything that moves. Forget about story because this is one of those titles were you keep on playing until you eventually succumb to the horrors out to impede your train storming antics. Although I personally prefer games that have a tale to tell, there’s nothing wrong with just playing to earn the highest score possible. That sort of game design didn’t prevent the likes of Pac-Man and Space Invaders from becoming timeless classics after all.

Even though there’s no end to the game the developers tried to keep things varied by having three types of train for players to board. There’s a ghost train populated by zombies, skeletons, werewolves and vampires, a futuristic bullet train guarded by robots and an oriental express were you have to contend with samurais and ninjas. When the game begins you randomly jump on one of the trains (by descending from a helicopter) and then advance with only a gun to protect you. Once you traverse past all the carriages you get to leap on another train and keep on going until you run out of health signaling a game over. What’s the deal with this track being used by an endless supply of hazardous trains? I’ll never complain about the Northern Line again.

WEAPONS AND CONTROLS

Your main goal when playing this game is just to survive and attain the best points score possible, but you also get three objectives to strive for during your train run. These missions range from killing a certain amount of enemies to saving hostages trapped in cages. Successfully clearing the assigned goal nets you stars, which unlock helpful items such protective gear and different weapon types. The varied arsenal consists of various handguns, beam weapons and rocket launchers that can be picked up by walking over crates. Weapon damage can be upgraded by spending the gravity defying floating coins you collect during your travels at the in-game store.

Shoot-em-up fans who have grown up with titles like Contra will feel right at home playing Storm the Train, but less experienced players shouldn’t be put off from having a go thanks to the accessible control scheme that anyone can master. There’s only four virtual buttons to worry about. On the left hand side of the screen you can tap on the movement icons that control moving forward/back whilst the right hand side houses the icons for jumping and shooting. The only other thing to look out for is the mayhem meter that fills up gradually as you destroy things. When the meter is topped up you can press it to activate a random power-up (such as an airstrike or a selection of automated drones that fly about mowing down hostiles or intercepting projectiles.)

SUMMARY

I had a lot of fun playing Storm the Train and only a few minor gripes prevent me from giving it full marks. One negative is the button layout, which can feel unwieldy for persons cursed with smaller hands (especially if you play on a wide iPad screen.) Thankfully you can adjust the control layout to make things more comfortable. Another potential problem is that the gameplay can get repetitive, even though the developers try to break up the constant run and gun action with the occasional boss fight and vehicle sections (were the screen automatically moves forward as you pilot a wheel shaped tank or take to the skies on a jetpack.) Some more enemy types and a few more kinds of train would alleviate the repetition, but it’s not a big deal as this is the type of game you play in quick bursts rather than for hours at a time.

Visually I dug the cute graphics featuring cartoony characters with oversized heads. I also thought the way your character loses clothing, as he/she gets hurt, was a neat touch. It reminded me of the fiendishly difficult Ghost n Goblins were your knight would be stripped of his armor (forcing him to fight the undead in his boxers) whenever he got hit. As far as casual titles go it’s a hoot and best of all free to download. Competitive types who want to top the Game Center high score table can splash out real money on weapon upgrades, but I don’t feel it’s necessary. Part of the fun is earning the upgrades naturally by collecting coins and completing missions, so why bother dipping into your financial reserves to take a short cut that ultimately hurts the replay value?

I heartily recommend Storm the Train to mobile gamers out there. It costs nowt to play so there’s no reason not to check it out. It’s the most train themed fun I’ve had since the days when I would listen to Ringo Starr narrate Thomas the Tank Engine.

Review of Steins;Gate (Part One)

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Steins;Gate’s leading man Rintaro Okabe is a self-proclaimed mad scientist. He spends his days in his lab concocting all manner of crazy gizmos, which he plans to use in his world conquest schemes. In reality though Okabe’s gadgets are nothing more than ineffective toys and his laboratory is in fact a modest flat situated above the electronic store owned by his grumpy landlord. That said, as the old adage goes, persistence breeds success. After numerous failures Okabe appears to have hit pay dirt when he combines a microwave oven with a mobile phone to create a bona fide time machine. What a nifty device. I’d gladly pay for an iPhone if it could heat up pot noodles and transport me to the past.

Okabe’s creation isn’t perfect however. As tests on bananas have proven, sending organic matter back in time is impossible (given how the leap to the past turns the aforementioned fruit into gelatinous goo.) On the plus side it is possible to send short text messages back in time, although Okabe soon learns that manipulating time is a dangerous game. Attempts to tweak the course of history, such as sending yourself the upcoming winning lottery numbers, rarely yield the outcome you wanted and in fact often result in undesirable changes to past events. Worst of all Okabe’s discovery seems to have come to the attention of a clandestine organisation that over the course of the story will put Rintaro and his friends in peril.

Having watched this first DVD, which contains half of the show’s twenty four episodes, I have to say that Steins;Gate is shaping up to be one of my favourite animes to get a UK release this year. No surprise really given how I am a sucker for time travel stories especially clever ones that deal with plausible science. When one thinks of sci-fi in anime you normally picture giant robots and aliens, but Steins;Gate is far more grounded in reality, revolving around things like string theory, the Large Hadron Collider and the butterfly effect (thankfully that annoying Ashton Kutcher is nowhere to be found.) The series is in fact inspired by real world events surrounding John Titor, a message board user who back in the early 2000s claimed to be a time traveller from the future searching for a rare IBM computer needed to prevent a third world war.

Although the series is lacking in action it is never dull thanks to its combination of charming characters and a captivating story. Things start off a little slowly, but it doesn’t take long for the plot to pick up the pace, hooking in viewers who will be curious to see how Okabe’s time meddling alters the world. The changes he causes, via experimentation and at the behest of others, seem to have a negative impact on Okabe’s circle of friends with some of them vanishing from his life, others suffering an unforeseeable tragedy and one of them even having their gender altered. Whilst watching the series I had the underlying dread that the show’s comical tone was gradually shifting to something darker, but thankfully the likable cast ensure that things never get overly depressing.

The eccentric Okabe is always entertaining to watch thanks to his outbursts of maniacal laughter, habit of rambling to a non-existent contact on his mobile and a knack for bestowing inappropriate nicknames to all his colleagues. His mad scientist schtick doesn’t get annoying as when things get serious he has the common sense to drop the act, revealing his true nature of someone who deeply cares for his friends. The supporting cast are just as endearing and include Daru the stereotypical overweight computer whizz, Okabe’s ditzy childhood friend Mayuri, Moeka who shuns oral speech in favour of text messaging and Faris a cosplay maid who has a thing for kitty puns. My favourite character would however have to be Kurisu the science prodigy who reluctantly accepts to become Okabe’s assistant, as the opportunity to study a functional time machine is something she cannot pass by. Kurisu and Okabe are constantly butting heads, but their squabbles cannot disguise the romantic chemistry that gradually builds up between them.

Based on what I have seen thus far I can highly recommend Steins;Gate to anime fans everywhere. Much like Chaos;Head (which is set in the same universe) Steins;Gate is an anime adaptation of a visual novel. Thankfully Steins;Gate made the transition from video game to cartoon more successfully than Chaos;Head, which started strong only to then lose its way by the end. Steins;Gate manages to keep a lid on the time travel angle, preventing it from getting silly and it benefits from having a far stronger roster of characters than Chaos;Head ever did. This twelve-episode collection ends on a cliffhanger that had me chomping at the bit to see volume two, although even if it had ended on a happier note I still would have been eagerly awaiting the next instalment as the series is such a treat to watch.

Review of Fix-it Felix Jr (iPad)

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Fix-It Felix Jr is a free Ipad game based on the Disney animated movie Wreck it Ralph. Anyone who has seen said movie should be familiar with the game’s concept as it faithfully recreates the fictional arcade title, which Ralph, Felix and chums call home.

When the app loads up we see Ralph go on a rampage at the Niceworld high-rise building. It seems like the hulking brute has an aversion to glass because he is on a mission to smash all of Niceworld’s windows. Players take control of the nimble handyman Felix who is tasked with mending the shattered windowpanes with the aid of his platform skills and faithful magic hammer. Failure is not an option as it would be cruel to ask the estate’s residents to pay Auto Glass Repair’s exorbitant prices to rectify the damage.

The game is broken up into ten levels were the player is expected to patch up all the cracked windows within a sixty seconds time limit. Controls couldn’t be simpler, comprising of a virtual joystick at the bottom of the screen and one action button. Swiping your finger across the joystick commands Felix to hop left/right from windowsill to windowsill as well as ascend/descend the building’s floors. Once you reach a broken pane, in need of attention, bash the action button to make Felix swipe his mystical bludgeoning tool to fix it good as new.

In terms of difficulty the game isn’t too taxing. The opening stage is a cakewalk as all you have to worry about is avoiding the occasional brick that Ralph, situated at the top of the screen, hurls down at you. As you ascend the structure the game’s challenge does however gradually increase. Ralph begins to get more aggressive in targeting you, so dodging the bricks raining down on your head becomes more problematic, plus you have to contend with the odd projectile smashing windows you have previously repaired. Thank goodness that a kind Samaritan occasionally leaves invincibility pies on their window ledge which can be munched on to protect you from harm for a few seconds.

Other obstacles introduced in later levels include balconies and window shutters that you cannot traverse. You’ll have to keep an eye out on their position to work out the optimal path to take in order to fix all the windows before the clock runs out signaling a game over. Whilst you’re at it also be wary of deadly ducks that fly across the screen periodically. Clearly this game is set in America and not the UK, because our fine nation has royals with shotguns and hounds to keep those pests at bay.

As far as free licensed movie games go Fix-It Felix Jr is good fun whilst it lasts. Visually I dug the retro blocky art style that emulates 8 bit games along with the easy to learn gameplay that reminds me a little of the Game & Watch titles I played in my youth. Unfortunately it won’t take long for the average player to master it. Before you know it all ten levels are conquered, Felix is rewarded for his good deeds with a gold medal and the Niceworld tenants toss Ralph to the muddy streets below.

What to do then is up to you. If you are willing to cough up sixty-nine pence you can extend your Fix-It Felix Jr experience by purchasing the Wreck It Ralph collection. The bundle contains a version of the game that isn’t neutered via limited levels and a lack of high score table. For your money you also get some other Ralph themed mini-games including a Turbo Time racer, Hero’s Duty shooter and Sweet Climber; an endless jumping game with tilt controls. Not something I would personally buy, but sounds like decent value for younger gamers who enjoyed the movie and want some more Wreck It Ralph goodness.

Review of Hellsing Ultimate (Volume 1)

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Hellsing Ultimate is a direct to DVD anime series based on the Hellsing manga created by writer/illustrator Kouta Hirano. As you may have gathered, from the title, the cartoon is a vampire centric show revolving around the Hellsing organization who are tasked with protecting Blighty from bloodsuckers and other supernatural threats. This isn’t the first time the Hellsing comic gets the animation treatment, as back in 2001 a short thirteen episode Hellsing series aired on Japanese TV. The original anime was well received at the time, but in retrospect some fans were disappointed by how it ended (a case of the studio making up their own finale after they run out of material to adapt from the ongoing written source material.) Can Hellsing Ultimate win over the naysayers with its higher production values and more faithful following of the comic’s storyline? Let’s find out.

The series premiers by showing us how Integra Hellsing turned from a bashful girl to the strong, cigar chomping, present day head of the Hellsing organization. After the death of her father she was inaugurated as the group’s leader, which didn’t go down well with her uncle. He attempts to assassinate his niece, to wrestle control of the organization, only to get his comeuppance when he chases Integra into a room containing a slumbering vampire named Alucard. During the scuffle Integra manages to reanimate the snoozing nosferatu who repays the deed by saving her life. Skip ahead to modern times were Alucard continues his servitude of Integra by battling his own kind, armed with an oversized gun that spews out bullets forged from melted down silver crosses.

Viewers get to see Alucard’s undead slaying prowess early on when he is sent to the village of Cheddar to eradicate an infestation of ghouls (zombie like creatures created when deflowered humans are bitten by a vampire… see you should have paid heed to abstaining from sex before marriage you sluts.) Numerous villagers and police officers, sent to contain the chaos, are slain during the incident by a vampire masquerading as a priest of all things. Alucard does however manage to save the life of a fatally wounded police girl named Seras Victoria by turning her into a vampire. It’s from this point on that the story shifts to a tale of Alucard mentoring his new vampiric apprentice on how to battle things that go bump in the night.

I have to say that volume one of Hellsing Ultimate leaves the best for last when Alucard and Seras are sent on a mission to rid an Irish castle of a ghoul horde. The assignment shows that vampires aren’t the biggest threat to the Hellsing group when they come across Paladin Alexander Anderson. He’s a vampire slayer, working for the Vatican, who does not appreciate Protestants meddling with Catholic affairs. Anderson turns out to be my favorite character in this volume as he chews up the scenery with his colorful bible bashing rhetoric. His resulting duel with Alucard ends up being the highlight of this DVD, which is a relief given that a lot of the prior action is just Alucard effortlessly mowing down whatever opponent he is pitted against.

Overall I have to say that I was a little disappointed by this opening chapter in the Hellsing Ultimate series. The show has been getting glowing reviews from fans, but I cannot help but wonder if they have been bewitched by the flashy artwork and promises that it will fully adapt the manga storyline. I concede that Ultimate blows the original anime out of the water, in terms of visuals, thanks to superior animation and mild computer effects, but the pace at which it rushes through the story is a turn off. In forty-five minutes Ultimate has covered events that took around five episodes for its predecessor to tell and man does it show.

There’s pretty much zero character development in this iteration of Hellsing. Gone are the moments of Seras coming to terms with her new life as a vampire. In the original series she had issues with drinking blood and killing anyone, but in Ultimate she wakes up after being turned, accepts her situation straight away and seconds later is on a mission sniping an unarmed fleeing vampire. It’s a pity seeing my favorite character, from the original anime, being reduced to a big-breasted puppy dog that gleefully chases after her master Alucard. This leaves us with no amicable characters to latch onto as Alucard is a cliché anti-hero and Integra is a complete cow that treats her employees like dirt.

One final complaint I would have with the series is the English dub. Crispin Freeman is perfect as Alucard, but a lot of his other English-speaking cast members aren’t up to par. The dialogue they are made to read isn’t great either. Characters are either trying too hard to sound like a badass or dish out heaps of exposition. One such example is when Integra’s butler informs her that the Vatican has sent an Iscariot agent to Ireland. This prompts her to waffle on about who the Iscariot group are, something the butler already knows, which only serves to explain a plot element to viewers that they could have sussed out themselves.

I’m giving volume one of Hellsing Ultimate three stars out of five. The action is good, but not terribly exciting given how powerful Alucard is. After being enhanced via alchemic and occult means he can survive getting filled with bullets, impaled by holy blades and decapitated, which means you never feel he is in any danger. I’m hoping the creators are just rushing through ground that is retread of the old show and that things will pick up in the later installments. As it stands I don’t feel the series deserves the plaudits it has got and it isn’t great value for money either. You get just one forty-five minute episode, which isn’t brill. They probably should have included another episode on the disk because, although you can pick up the volume for under a fiver now, I wouldn’t want to pay full price for such a short running DVD. This is after all an age were you can get a complete thirteen episode anime set for around fifteen quid.

Review of Guardian Cross (iPad)

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It seems like you cannot swing a cat in the Apple App Store without hitting a digital trading card game. The advent of mobile gaming has seen numerous developers jump into the card battling market, eager to claim a slice of the financial pie that has seen the likes of Magic the Gathering and Yu-Gi-Oh gorge themselves off revenue fuelled by geeky collectors. Although you cannot replace the satisfaction of owning a real life deck, digital card games do have some advantages over their paper-based brethren. For one thing, thanks to online match making, it is easier to find opponents to battle against and you also don’t have to worry about finding space to store your collection (something that can be a serious headache when you begin to accumulate stacks of repeat cards.)

Guardian Cross is Square-Enix’s venture into the world of card collection. You may know the company best for being the minds behind the legendary RPG series Final Fantasy. This particular game is set in the fantasy world of Northern Cross and has players following the exploits of a rookie Guardian Master named Bran (not to be confused with the fiber rich cereal.) As a Guardian Master it is your duty to protect the kingdom from potential threats via Bran’s ability to summon powerful Guardians to do battle (think Pokemon, only instead of cute critters your servants are mythical beings, spirits, mechanical golems and so on.)

The main bulk of the game has you travelling across various maps, which involves clearing the area of hostiles. To do so you tap an opponent to initiate a battle were both parties clash using up to ten Guardians (represented by cards.) The story accompanying this trek across Northern Cross revolves around Bran teaming up with a princess to investigate a number of incidents were a mysterious masked man is up to no good. To be honest the plot is fairly forgettable and I wouldn’t blame players for skimming through most of it. The dialogue between characters can be humorous at times, but the stars themselves are guilty of bland personalities and the narrative is mostly cliche RPG stuff setting up a reason for the quests you embark on. Travel to a nearby tower to rescue a missing villager? Clear a cavern of beasts that are plaguing a defenseless village? Gripes, how original.

One thing that I like about Guardian Cross is the manner in which you enlist new combatants to your cause. Most games of this ilk simply involve purchasing additional cards at a store, but not so here. Guardian Cross requires that you literally hunt for new monsters by taking part in a shooting mini-game. Spending one of the hunting tickets, you earn through your travels, permits you to visit a hunting zone. Once there you are given a minute to blast the roaming guardians that populate the area, by lining up your cross hairs and firing your rifle from an aerial position. If you can damage your target sufficiently the card representing the creature is added to your deck.

At the time of writing there are four hunting zones to rampage across ranging from grassy plains to a lava filled volcano. Each region has its own unique range of Guardians to procure in addition to environmental hazards to contend with. The recently introduced Deadmoon Desert for example is littered with mines. Shooting these traps causes them to detonate, which is a good way of instantly killing any Guardians in the vicinity. The Storm Reach Snowfield on the other hand suffers from frequent blizzards than freeze Guardians in ice, making them easy pickings. It’s just like shooting fish in a barrel… or rather leviathans in a glacier.

For you competitive types out there Guardian Cross also sports a coliseum were regularly scheduled competitions take place. These tournaments pit you against the decks of fellow players, with the reward of rare cards and magic stones (used to beef up your Guardians) on offer depending on how many points you earn during the contest’s duration. Don’t expect a real time battle against online players though. Much like combat against AI opponents, the card duels simply pit your ten selected cards against your competitor’s preselected roster. You have no influence on what abilities your Guardians use in battle, so for the most part you’ll just hit the fast forward button to skip the needless battle commentary to determine who the victor is.

If all this confrontation is too much for your pacifist sensibilities you’ll be glad to know that it is also possible to make alliances with fellow players by selecting the social tab. You can have up to a total of forty buddies on a friend list who you can send messages to with the aims of facilitating card trades. You also have the option of challenging ten of your friends to an exhibition bout, once a day, to earn friendship points. These can be exchanged for goodies such as hunting tickets or potions that replenish your action points. A wise investment as, much like Facebook games, once you use up your allotted action points you cannot do anything until they recharge.

Before summing up I should touch on the game’s presentation. Card games don’t have to be flashy, but it’s still worth mentioning that the developers have done a good job with both the visuals and sound. The background music is great, although that should not be a surprise given Square’s reputation for having stellar composers produce their video game soundtracks. Graphically the story characters have a cartoony/anime look to them, which looks decent. In terms of artwork however most of the attention has been paid into the card images themselves, which are well detailed and feature a number of well-known eidolons from the Final Fantasy games.

Rating this game is a difficult task as it ultimately comes down to personal taste. For a casual RPG fan, like myself, I think it is worthy of four stars. After a few months I still find myself logging in on a daily basis and spending a good fifteen minutes hunting, questing and leveling up my cards by sacrificing needless ones. The game is well supported by Square who churn out new quests, cards, hunting zones and contests on a fairly regular basis. Not bad for a free game (although be aware that you are unlikely to get the best cards unless you pay for premium coins as tends to be the way with these kind of games.)

If you are not a RPG fan you may be better off avoiding Guardian Cross as the grind heavy nature of the game can get dull. Guardian Cross’ overly simplistic combat system may also bore hardcore card gaming purists. Not having to learn complex rules to play is nice, but there is virtually no strategy to proceedings. At the very least I would expect the game to allow you to pick what card to deal once your active Guardian is eliminated. If they implemented that in a future patch I would be tempted to upgrade the game’s score to five stars.

Review of Chaos;Head

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Back in 2012 Manga Entertainment treated UK anime viewers to Chaos;Head, a twelve episode series based on a popular visual novel. For those of you not aware, visual novels are stories that use video game technology to tell their tales. The medium beats crusty paperbacks by enhancing the narrative text with stylish graphics and sound. Seems like a neat idea to me, but alas visual novels are rarely seen outside of their native Japan. Western readers seem to have a hard time letting go of traditional books (only now are we seeing digital reading get accepted by the mainstream after heavy marketing by the likes of Amazon keen to turn their Kindle into the next iPod.)

Chaos;Head like most visual novels began life as a PC title, but its popularity has seen it get ported over to consoles and some mobile devices. The story has been deemed rich enough to be turned into three different manga comic books in addition to the anime show I am reviewing today. Manga Entertainment’s release will set you back around twelve quid delivering the entire series across a two disc set. Not too bad in terms of value for money, although the package is sorely lacking in meaningful extra content. Aside for the cartoon all prospective buyers will find are “clean” text-less versions of the opening/closing theme songs (FDD and Super Special.)

The story follows high school student Takumi Nishijo who is someone, dare I say, the stereotypical anime fan may relate to. He’s a reclusive dork who spends his days playing online video games and chatting with an imaginary girlfriend based off the heroine of an anime he enjoys. Takumi’s isolationist tendencies do however put hermits, like myself, to shame. He hides away in a shipping container equipped with life’s essentials (a computer, fridge stocked with cola and a collection of anime figurines.) Takumi only leaves his humble abode to attend the minimum number of classes needed to graduate or to visit a local cybercafe.

Nishijo’s humdrum existence is turned upside down when he is sent a webpage link containing a photo of a man pinned to a bloody alley wall. The hapless chap pictured in the image is the latest victim of the infamous New Gen serial killer. That’s spooky enough, but the real kicker is that the following day Takumi inadvertently ends up in said alley and sees the deceased who appears to have been recently killed by a pink haired girl. How is it possible that he was sent a photograph of a murder that actually took place the following day? If that’s not bizarre enough the pink haired girl in question turns out to be a fellow class mate of Takumi even though he has no memory of her whatsoever.

Thus Takumi becomes embroiled in the New Gen crimes and all the madness surrounding them. Hot on his heels are the police who have made him a prime suspect in the killings after CC footage captured him fleeing from the scene of the above-mentioned murder. To complicate matters, the usually unpopular Takumi, begins to attract the attention of a number of crazy chicks. The list of lasses after him include the sister of one of the New Gen victims, a singer whose song lyrics seem to predict the New Gen homicides, a girl who brandishes a phantom sword only he can see and a mute cutie who can communicate via telepathy.

Overall I liked Chaos;Head, but I didn’t love it. I’ll start off by listing the good stuff. In terms of presentation I think Mad House studios did a good job bringing the visual novel to life. The characters retain the look of the static images found in the novel, but the visuals themselves are enhanced with greater detail. The writers also did a good job of balancing out the story with some lighthearted moments, preventing the narrative from becoming too dark. I also think both sets of voice actors performed their parts well. Hardcore anime purists won’t settle for anything less than the original Japanese audio, but if you have an aversion to subtitles I can report that the English language dub is perfectably passable.

I cannot however give the series more than three stars out of five due to how it ends. The finale answers all the questions posed by the plot early on, but I didn’t care for the change in tone the story takes. The show starts strong as an intriguing psychological murder mystery with supernatural elements to it, which reminded me a little of Paranoia Agent. Viewers will be hooked trying to decipher the identity of the New Gen killer. Could it be the pink haired Rimi Sakihata or one of the other girls in Takumi’s life? Heck even Takumi himself could be the murderer given that he is prone to bouts of delusion.

Unfortunately the manner in which the wickedly warped story pans out sees the suspenseful yarn devolve into a cheesy battle of girls with magic swords taking on an evil corporation. Kudos to the writers, as I would never have guessed that outcome… but I was hoping for something a bit more meaningful given the original setup. Chaos;Head ends up being an anime of two halves – a captivating premise that messes with your “head” culminating in a “chaotic” mess of wasted potential.