Review of Riding Bean

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Riding Bean, what an odd name for an anime. Like Bubblegum Crisis you have no clue as to what the cartoon is about going on the name alone. Is it the story of a plant seed who likes to travel on horseback? No. This short OVA is set in 1980s Chicago and stars a transporter who goes by the name of Bean Bandit. Bean is a badass who makes Frank Martin look like a pussy. Aside from having insane driving skills, which he uses to complete his shady courier jobs, he is a beast of a man who can get crushed by a car and get up as if nothing happened. He’s so manly that he can even chew on walnuts by cracking the shells with his teeth!

When the show starts we get to see Bean showcase his skills by aiding a couple of robbers to getaway from a heist they have just pulled off. This DVD comes with an eighteen certificate and in the opening minutes you are left in no doubt that this animated film is for mature audiences and not for kids. The robbers take a naked lass as hostage and when some poor cop tries to apprehend them his brains get splattered courtesy of a shotgun shell. From that point on we see the crooks flee from the police aboard Bean’s Roadbuster which is outfitted with some snazzy gizmos that wouldn’t look out of place in a Bond car.

After that the introductory scene is done and dusted we get into the main story that has Bean transporting a girl, who has apparently got away from some kidnappers, back to her home. What looks like a straight forward job takes a turn for the worse when Bean learns that the girl was actually dumped on him by the kidnappers. The fiends took the ransom money they demanded for releasing the cutie and made a quick getaway hoping that the authorities would be distracted in trying to rescue the child from Bean who they framed. Needless to say Bean is not amused. He sets off to track down the guys responsible to exact his revenge and take the two million dollar ransom as compensation for the inconvenience.

I have to say that I loved Riding Bean, but that should come as no surprise as it was made by Kenichi Sonoda who is the man behind Gunsmith Cats, which I also rate highly. You could say that this anime was a prequel to the Gunsmith Cats series as Bean does appear in the Gunsmith Cats manga. Sharpshooter Rally Vincent, the heroine of Gunsmith Cats, also appears in this short as Bean’s partner in crime. You may not recognise her though as this early version of the character is a blonde Caucasian as opposed to an Indian (wow that’s a transformation that rivals anything the late Michael Jackson could pull off.)

Like with Gunsmith Cats the appeal of this anime has to be the combination of action and humour. Bean is an ace driver so expect most of the film to involve some crazy car chases were Bean alternates from being pursued (by the police) to becoming the pursuer (when he finds the kidnappers who double crossed him.) Aside from vehicular antics we do get some off the road fights near the end when Bean, armed with a knife, steps out of his Roadbuster to confront the hostage takers in a parking lot. To balance out the graphic violence we get some laughs via banter between the characters. One funny scene for example has Rally struggling to wake a dozing Bean. When she fails to lift him from his slumber via conventional means she tries to zap him with a tazer and when that doesn’t work she plants a hot frying pan on his face (ouchie.)

As I have mentioned in other reviews, good action alone cannot carry a movie if the characters are flat. Thankfully the cast in Riding Bean are all likeable. Bean isn’t a typical hero as he does take jobs from criminals, but he does have a soft spot for kids that proves that he isn’t a heartless monster. He is normally laid back as he is confident his skills can get him out of any sticky situation. Bean can however turn into a scary individual when he loses his temper (such as one scene when a guard calls his sports car a piece of junk.) Rally is a good partner for him as she is more business like and level headed. Out of the two she comes across as the brains of the outifit with Bean being the brawn.

The villains of the piece are surprisingly competent and only get tracked down by Bean due to sheer bad luck. Semmerling a ruthless and cunning master of disguise is the main antagonist aided by her lesbian lover Carrie. It’s actually the police who fill the role of buffoons that the hero outsmarts. The old bill is led by detective Percy who has recently acquired a flashy Cobra GT 500 which he hopes can keep up with Bean who he is obsessed with catching. Percy doesn’t pose much of a threat and is there mostly as comic relief in the form of angry outbursts when his prey eludes him yet again.

Although I love Riding Bean, the DVD release isn’t perfect. The whole thing only lasts forty minutes so it’s poor value for money if you get it for full price. I’m a fan of the OVA, but only added it to my collection because I found it for cheap on an online site that was having a sale to clearout stock. The DVD is a barebones release with no extras. You get the feature, a still picture for a menu, scene selections and nothing else. In terms of visuals the artwork and animation are good, but look a little dirty compared to modern shows (which is understandable as this was made in the late eighties.) Be aware that you only get the English dub, which could be a deal breaker for some hardcore anime pursuits. I don’t mind watching anime in English so it wasn’t a issue for me, but be warned that the voice actors they got aren’t great and the dubbing doesn’t always synch properly with the characters’ lips.

Due to those faults I cannot award Riding Bean full marks, but I still give it a high four stars. Like with Gunsmith Cats, when it ended I was left wanting more. I wish they would have made this a little longer, but I understand that it was originally intended to be a pilot for a series not a movie. Due to creative differences with Sonoda and the studio that idea never took off, which is a crying shame. Based on what we have here there was potential for Riding Bean to become a great anime series. It makes me so angry that I could crush some walnuts with my teeth… but I think I will pass as I lack Bean’s muscular jaw line.

Review of Atelier Escha & Logy (PS3)

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Atelier Escha & Logy is the fifteenth game in the long running JRPG series, which predominately focuses on alchemy. The game is the second instalment of the Dusk trilogy and therefore features a bunch of familiar faces from its predecessor (Atelier Ayesha) along with two new protagonists. Yes, that’s right, the game has two main characters. This is a departure from the franchise’s other PS3 releases, which are normally fronted by a solo heroine. Perhaps Gust are trying to shed the girlie image of the Atelier titles, to attract more male players, because once Alchemists of the Dusk Sky boots up you are giving the choice of playing as a boy or girl.

STORY

Representing the Y chromosome camp is Logy the no nonsense alchemist from Central City who specialises in crafting weapons and armour via state of the art technology. His partner in crime is the sweet-toothed Escha who performs alchemy the traditional way by mixing ingredients in a cauldron. The pair has recently started to work together at the Colesit Research and Development branch, where they are expected to complete various assignments using their transmutation talents. Joining them on their adventures are various other characters including the socially awkward swordswoman Linca and the cowboy treasure hunter Reyfer who has a passion for unearthing relics.

In order to advance the story players need to complete assignments mandated by the head office within a certain period of time. Optional assignments can also be undertaken to earn points that can be invested into experimental research, which unlocks a plethora of beneficial bonuses. The tasks you will be asked to perform can range from using alchemy to help a village cope with a drought, the exploration of nearby ruins and even taking out dangerous creatures. To succeed in your objectives time management is key as is mastering the alchemy system. Weapons, bombs and healing items can be made by combining ingredients that you purchase from stores or harvest from the land during your travels.

GAMEPLAY

Once you venture out of town it will soon become apparent that the life of an alchemist is not a pacifist existence. The region of Colesit is populated with hostile wildlife and aggressive golems that you will have to defend yourself against. This is accomplished via turn-based combat, which is slightly more strategic than that found in earlier Atellier offerings. Instead of commanding just three characters, during a scrap, your party can have up to six participants at any one time. The trio on the front lines are responsible for dishing out the pain whilst those in reserve rest up, gradually replenishing their health points. If an active combatant is hurt it’s possible to switch places with someone in the rear guard at the start of their turn.

As you trade blows with opponents both your group’s support bar and character’s special move meter increase. Once the special move bar is filled the character in question can perform a devastating limit break like attack. Support power on the other hand allows you to summon colleagues to either protect a chum from an incoming strike or help out with the assault by dishing out an additional attack. Unlike most characters Escha and Logy cannot perform a limit break, but this disadvantage is offset by their ability to use offensive and recuperative items. The alchemic duo can also team up, via the draw command, to launch a twin bombardment of destructive items during a single turn.

SUMMARY

My final rating for Atelier Escha & Logy is four stars out of five. It’s just as much fun, to play, as the other Atelier games so fans of the series should be satisfied with this latest offering. Newcomers to the franchise may also want to start their Atelier journey with this game as it does a better job of guiding newbie players than the older more open-ended games in the series. Completing the assignments that are allotted to you, over the course of the story, is a good way of learning the game’s mechanics and ensures that your party’s alchemy/combat skills are at an adequate level to face the challenges you come across.

I do however have some gripes with Escha & Logy. For a start its story isn’t anywhere near as exciting as its predecessor. Atelier Ayesha had you on a quest to save your sister whilst this game has you performing fetch quests for a bureaucratic employer, which is much less stimulating. The Atelier series is also in danger of becoming the Call of Duty of niche games. Gust is churning out these games fairly regularly and it shows. The game is guilty of recycling ideas and feels a little rushed. Some of the background environments lack polish and on certain maps I encountered choppy frame rate, which is odd as visually speaking the game is hardly pushing the PS3 to its limits.

My biggest beef however is with the uneven difficulty. For the most part I found the game to be a cakewalk until I stumbled upon the penultimate boss who proceeded to wipe the floor with me. The unexpected difficulty spike was most frustrating to say the least. It didn’t however detract from making Atelier Escha & Logy an enjoyable game. I just hope the upcoming Atelier Shari introduces some new ideas to freshen things up. Even though I am a big fan of these games I fear that they are starting to become a little stale. Gust will need to do a little more than giving you the option to play as a guy to retain my interest.

Review of Back to the Future 3 (Megadrive)

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As far as movies go the Back to the Future films would rank as one of my favourite (if not my favourite) trilogy of all time. The same cannot however be said for the video games based off the adventures of Marty McFly and Doc Brown. Even though I am a veteran gamer who should know better than to play movie licensed games (90% of movie games tend to suck) I have ended up playing numerous Back to the Future games on a number of systems including the Amstrad CPC, NES and Sega Master System. They have all been pretty awful.

Do any good Back to the Future games exist? Well I’ve heard that Back to the Future 2 on the Super Nintendo is decent. It has a chibi (cute art style with big headed characters) Marty going around platform levels using his hover board. Alas I have never played it as the game only appeared in Japan. Telltale games also released a Back to the Future adventure game, which sounds promising, although I have yet to play it. Time will tell (no pun intended) if it lives up to the movies or ends up being another failure like Back to the Future 3, which I am reviewing today.

The Back to the Future 3 video game has appeared on several consoles and home computers, but the one I am covering is the Megadrive version. I would assume with it’s 16 bit power that this version would be the best of the lot, which is rather worrying as I cannot stand this game. Graphically it’s alright, with the visuals being of the standard you would expect from a Megadrive game of the time. The sound effects and music are however uninspired. Nothing special, just what you would expect and forgettable. Not terrible aside from the Back to the Future theme when the game starts, which is almost unrecognisable due to the poor audio quality. The game play varies wildly from level to level so I will tackle each stage separately.

LEVEL 1

For most of the game you control Marty which is to be expected as he is the film’s main star, but for this opening stage players get to control Doc Brown. This side scrolling horseback level has you chasing after Clara the school teacher and his love interest in the film. She is stuck on a runaway carriage so it is up to the Doc to reach her before the stagecoach reaches the end of the ravine and plummets into a billion pieces.

Doc’s horse moves forward automatically so all you have to worry about is avoiding the obstacles that get in his way. It feels like all of the Wild West is hell bent on stopping the couple from meeting. Aside from stray crates, which you have to jump over, there are bouncing boulders to duck under, (who is throwing these things and why do they bounce rather than smash when they hit the ground) pitfalls to leap over, crows that hit you so hard that you fall off your horse along with Indian tomahawks and hostile cowboys who will shoot you if they get too close.

To fend off these dangers you can shoot forward, backwards, crouch and jump. Sounds simple, but it really isn’t as you don’t get enough time to react to each danger. A boulder appears on screen and one second later you get hit and fall off your horse. After getting hit a few times it’s game over and you have to start over from the very beginning which is most frustrating. As you need superman like reflexes to counter the obstacles, your only hopes of success are to memorize what is coming so you can time the exact moment you have to press a button.

I have to say that I am not a fan of this type of game design. When it comes to gaming I want something that tests your skill or requires brain power to succeed. This on the other hand is just a case of learning the layout of the level, which involves many game overs. A challenge is okay if the game play is fun as it drives you to get better. Something like this however feels like punishment so I suspect that only the most determined of players will plug away long enough to reach the next level. On the plus side some of the captions that appear when you get a game over are amusing (in one of them Clara falls off the cliff screaming “I wish I was Mary Poppins!”

LEVEL 2

This is probably the best level in the entire game, although that isn’t saying much. It takes place during the Town Festival when Marty has a go playing a shooting game on the target practice stall. To progress you have to accumulate enough points by hitting various pop up targets of ducks and gunmen. You use the d-pad to aim left/right and up/down to adjust the height of your crosshairs. It’s not frustrating, unlike the other levels, but very basic as far as shooting games go. The level plays like something you would expect from a free downloadable game as opposed to a full price title based off a successful movie franchise.

LEVEL 3

Marty is outside the Saloon taking on Mad Dog Tannen’s gang armed with a bunch of plates. Periodically Tannen’s men come out of the cover they are hiding behind to shoot at McFly. Whilst they are exposed you are expected to hit the henchmen with the makeshift Frisbees. By moving left and right you can dodge bullets, but if you get hit don’t worry as you can survive some shots thanks to Marty’s bullet proof vest. In terms of ammo you have a finite number of plates to toss, but if you run out it’s possible to walk up to a nearby table to get some more.

I’m not really sure why a gang of outlaws is taking cover against a wimp with some plates. Surely they can just rush him and kick his ass faster than saying “Family Ties – sit Bubu, sit good dog.” I guess that wouldn’t make for an interesting level, but what we get is pretty tedious too. The main problem with this level is that hitting anything with the plates feels like a nigh on impossible task. Overall this might be the easiest level in the game if it were at all possible to aim the plates accurately. Most players will probably get bored and turn off the console at this point, but for the masochists out there we have a final stage to endure…

LEVEL 4

Can Marty return to his own time? It all depends on the skill of the player. Marty starts at the end of a train that is pushing the DeLorean time machine. He needs to get to the front of the locomotive to reach the car, which isn’t an easy task as once again numerous random perils are determined to halt his progress. There are knife wielding train robbers and wrench throwing train engineers to contend with. Thankfully Marty still has the throwing plates from the last level at hand which can be used to dispatch the nasties.

Along the way you have to grab canisters which are used for heating up the train’s boiler. If the boiler doesn’t reach a high enough temperature the train won’t build up enough thrust to push the Delorean to the speed necessary for time travel. Accomplishing this is no easy task as you have a strict time limit to adhere to. You cannot die in this level, but if you get knocked off the train by an enemy or stray telephone pole you lose valuable seconds getting back on.

This side scrolling finale was less frustrating than the first level as you have full control of your character’s movement. Instead of riding forward automatically you walk at your own pace so it is easier to deal with the enemies. You can also pick how to contend with the oncoming dangers. It’s possible to trade blows with foes or avoid them completely, depending on their position, by rolling under their feet. The problem is that the level just isn’t fun and the unforgiving time limit doesn’t help matters. A disappointing end to what is a disappointing game.

SUMMARY

Well it goes without saying that I do not recommend this game. It is horrible and one to avoid. Unless you are a diehard video game collector who buys stuff to boost the size of their library, irrespective of the title’s quality, there is no reason for tracking down a copy of Back to the Future 3. Like a lot of older games based off movies there is no structure to it. You get a few lame mini games recreating scenes from the film and that is it. That would have been okay if the mini games were any good, but they were all below average at best (I could only stomach level two and even that level wasn’t exactly exciting.)

If I think about it, this game is terrible value for money. You only get four short levels, but despite the lack of content the majority of players giving it a go are unlikely to get through it all. The short length is disguised by unfair difficulty and frustration. Most people will give up after ten minutes of the first level. I myself only managed to tackle the latter stages by using a cheat code (pause the game, hold down A and press up, down, left right to skip to the next level.) This game will make you wish that time travel was possible… but only so you can go back to the past and warn yourself not to play it in the first place!

FINAL RATING: ONE STAR

Review of Black Lagoon: Roberta’s Blood Trail

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Roberta’s Blood Trail is the anime follow up to Black Lagoon and Black Lagoon: The Second Barrage. This five part OVA tells the continuing adventures of Lagoon Company, a group that specialises in smuggling goods out of the Thai city of Roanapur (it’s a fictional place, so please don’t waste your time trying to locate it on an Atlas.) As you may have gathered from the DVD’s title, this particular story arc focuses on Roberta, an ex Colombian terrorist who has since settled down in Venezuela where she now works as a maid for the wealthy Lovelace family.

Unfortunately for Roberta her life of tranquillity is shattered when a team of American soldiers assassinate the head of the Lovelace family (wow I’m surprised, I thought that these days they left such tasks for unmanned drones.) Anyway, Roberta is understandably miffed and decides to come out of mercenary retirement to make her master’s killers pay. Using her famed tracking skills, that have earned her the nickname Bloodhound, Roberta finds out that the US troops responsible for the slaying of her employer are now based in Roanapur. She sets out to enact her vengeance and maybe marvel at the lady boys Thailand is renowned for.

For those of you not acquainted with the Black Lagoon franchise, Roanapur is a hive of scum and villainy that would make Han Solo blush. The harbour city is populated with weapons dealers, whores and Mafiosos who are not exactly thrilled by Roberta’s appearance. If the homicidal maid succeeds in executing her targets Roanapur can expect a visit from an irate Uncle Sam, who will undoubtedly disrupt their illicit operations. Thus the stage is set. Roberta is pursuing the Americans whilst everyone else is out to stop her. Lagoon Company are drafted into the whole mess when the new head of the Lovelace family, a thirteen year old boy named Garcia, hires them to rescue his head maid before things escalate out of hand.

As you would expect from the series, once things kick off the OVA erupts into a carnage filled orgy of action and profanity that wouldn’t look out of place in a Robert Rodriguez movie. The early episodes are however surprisingly quiet, doing a good job of setting up the story and reintroducing viewers to the show’s main players. Dutch the head of Lagoon Company and Benny the tech wiz are largely shoved into the background so it is left to Revy and Rock (not to be confused with the Herculean wrester who has a twitchy eyebrow) to share the limelight.

Revy is the foul-mouthed femme fatal who steals the show during the action sequences, which highlight her gun-totting prowess. Rock on the other hand sits on the sidelines orchestrating the whole operation. It’s fascinating to see how Rock’s character has developed over the course of the series. He started out as a fish out of water office dweeb and has slowly morphed into a tactical genius that delights in seeing how his masterful plans unfold. Perhaps his exposure to Roanapur’s toxic environment has corrupted him or maybe it has unearthed a dark side that was always bubbling under the surface?

My final score for Black Lagoon: Roberta’s Blood Trail is a solid four stars out of five. Although many viewers will be attracted to the series by its visceral combat showpieces the story is surprisingly clever and filled with a cast of anti-heroes who, despite not being the nicest chaps you will ever meet, have enough redeemable qualities to make you root for them. Even though the action sequences look cool I wouldn’t accuse Black Lagoon’s creators of glorifying violence. Once the dust settles you have to deal with the aftermath of broken bodies and shattered lives, which make you feel guilty for cheering on during the times when the drug fuelled Roberta was laying waste to her enemies. It’s been four years since Second Barrage was released and I am happy to report that the wait was well worth it. Roberta’s Blood Trail is an excellent addition to the on-going Black Lagoon franchise.

Review of Altered Beast (Megadrive)

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Altered Beast is another of those arcade ports which made its way to the sixteen bit Megadrive back in the early nineties. This classic beat em up was developed by the same bloke responsible for the excellent Golden Axe (one of the Golden Axe mountable beasts actually makes a cameo appearance as a level two enemy.) Players take the role of a mighty warrior who has been resurrected by the Greek god of thunder Zeus and tasked with saving the deity’s daughter, who has been kidnapped by the demon Neff. I feel for poor Athena. Her daddy is an all powerful being but he cannot be arsed to rescue her, opting instead to send some smelly corpse to do his dirty work.

GAMEPLAY

Compared to other fighting games, Altered Beast is rather basic. The player can only move left and right to avoid dangers or close in on enemies, but he has no direct control of where he is going. The screen scrolls automatically to the right revealing the stage and any creatures lurking there. Using punches and kicks you must down the legion of undead, monsters and mythical beats that are doing Neff’s bidding. Our hero can also jump to get over pitfalls or perform a super jump to reach flying foes and high platforms, which are beyond the reach of his regular leap.

The game’s unique selling point would have to be the transformations. Although Zeus didn’t provide the would be rescuer with any weapons he did at least grant him the ability to change forms. Vanquishing blue wolves releases a floating orb that when collected powers up our hero. The player starts off as a scrawny guy, but after grabbing an orb he decides to prove his manliness by ripping off his shirt Hulk Hogan style. Any ladies hoping to see pixilated wang will however be disappointed to learn that the warrior keeps his pants on. Collecting a second orb sees the player juice up, Chris Benoit style, into a muscle bound beefcake that would put Arnie to shame. Upon picking up the fourth and final orb the player turns into a powerful beast for the duration of the level (unfortunately you revert back to the wimp after downing the guardian who resides at the end of the stage.)

LEVEL BREAKDOWN

In total you have five levels to overcome before you can rescue Athena :-

STAGE 1: Things start off at the cemetery where the player rises from his grave. The game eases you in with a fairly straightforward opener. Slow moving skeletons and decapitated zombies impede your progress. In stage one you transform into a fireball casting werewolf who faces off against an end boss that tosses an endless supply of heads at you.

STAGE 2: We then move underground to a monster lair guarded by bouncing slimes and snakes that drop down from the ceiling. The boss of this stage is a giant plant that spews out eyes, but it doesn’t pose much of a threat. The dragon transformation you get in this level comes equipped with an electric shock attack that puts Pikachu to shame. By spamming the overpowered move it’s possible to turn the boss into ocular fertilizer in a matter of seconds.

STAGE 3: A cave populated by giant ants and snails with boulders for shells. Fans of the carebears will be delighted to learn that you change into a grizzly in this stage. The bear form comes with petrifying breath that turns enemies into stone and a spin attack that reminds me a little of Sonic the Hedgehog. The end of level boss resembles a mutated seahorse that can fly and spit out fireballs.

STAGE 4: Once you hit the ruins the game’s difficulty really starts to ramp up. Watch out for the undead and flying creatures that patrol the area. The level’s boss, in my opinion, is the most annoying one in the entire game due to the firebirds it summons. To progress you will have to master the abilities of the humanoid leopard you transform into.

STAGE 5: The final hurdle to overcome is the city of the dead. I guess they run out of ideas at this point as you once again transform into a werewolf after collecting four orbs. Here I saw the game over screen many times due to the fiendishly tough enemies that swarm you. Watch out for boxing goats and unicorns that perform flying kicks (there is nothing worse than getting killed by My Little Pony.) If you get to the end Neff awaits in the guise of a charging rhino.

PRESENTATION

Graphically speaking Altered Beast isn’t going to win any prizes. By today’s standards the sprites and backgrounds come across as blocky. It’s an early Megadrive game though so you cannot be too critical, especially as there are worse looking titles which came out at around the same time. I give credit to the makers for coming up with many different enemy designs and backgrounds, which give every level a unique feel. The animation is however lacking and the sluggish pace at which things move really makes the controls feel stiff.

I was far more impressed by the sonics. The game features some excellent tracks which I still enjoy listening to. The sound effects on the other hand are nothing to write home about. The game features some digitized speech that may have been impressive back in the day, but now is laughably bad. Zeus mispronounces “grave” when resurrecting you and Neff’s sinister appearance is somewhat hampered by his taunts that are delivered in a fruity accent. The only speech that I found passable was the manly “Power Up” whenever you come in contact with an orb.

OVERALL

To be perfectly honest this game has not aged well. Modern gamers can still have fun with beat-em-ups like Streets of Rage, but I am sure most would dismiss Altered Beast as garbage. I however have a soft spot for it. Maybe it’s the nostalgia talking, but the cheesy speech and simple combat has a certain charm to it. I still play Altered Beast from time to time so I think it is worthy of three stars. The game is rather short, but most players won’t finish it in a hurry. Three lives and no continues is rather unforgiving so you will have to practice a lot, to memorise the level layouts, if you intend to see the ending without a cheat.

If you weren’t around during the sixteen bit era you should probably give this a miss, but I think the title is still worth recommending to the retro gaming crowd. You can pickup the Megadrive cartridge cheaply online or download a virtual console version of the game for not too much. Another option would be to buy the excellent Megadrive Ultimate collection (for PS3 or 360) as it is included there. Twenty years after its release Altered Beast continues to rise from the grave to captivate players. Yes it is primitive, but with lasting power like that it must be doing something right.

Review of Burst Angel Infinity

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Burst Angel is one of those anime shows that I never finished watching. Years ago, when the DVDs were coming out, I watched around half the series before dropping it. I had a bunch of other things to see so I decided to take a break and never got round to going back to view the final few episodes. Was it a bad series? No, but it wasn’t anything special either. It sounded like a fun “chicks with guns” cartoon, set in a crime ridden futuristic Japan, with some good looking character designs. Alas Burst Angel proved to be mediocre filled with ideas the average anime fan has seen a million times before and done better.

Despite not being wowed by the twenty four episode series I decided to check out the OVA (basically a direct to DVD release not shown on TV) titled Burst Angel Infinity. Judging from the synopsis Infinity sounded like a movie prequel set before the main characters (Jo and Meg) joined the mercenary group they are part of in the series. After watching the feature, in its entirety, I was however surprised to learn that this prequel was no longer than your run of the mill twenty two minute episode. Not exactly great value for money, but perhaps we can forgive the short running time if it’s any good right?

STORY

Jo an Meg return to their home town to visit Shirley, an orphan they grew up with, to celebrate the youngster’s birthday. An amusing start to the show sees the pair earn some reward money by rescuing a cat that is stuck up a tree. With the funds they acquire they purchase a birthday gift and set off to see Shirley, only to learn that the youngster is battling to stay alive after getting attacked by a blade wielding cowboy cyborg the night before. The police don’t seem to be too bothered about tracking down the mechanical murderer so our heroines set off to dish out justice themselves.

There really isn’t much else to say due to the wafer thin plot and short running time. The sexy duo don’t have to investigate too much to track down the cyborg as it ends up seeking them out. In the end Meg gets kidnapped (not much of a spoiler as it is a recurring theme in the show) setting up the action packed finale were Jo tries to rescue her companion. It’s hard to get too excited as this is a prequel so you know that they will ultimately get away unscathed. The potentially interesting conspiracy of why the cops aren’t pursuing the cyborg gets explained away in less than a minute moments before the credits roll. Hmmm I think I am starting to remember why I gave up on the show.

CHARACTERS

Infinity’s heroines are drawn beautifully, but alas their appeal is only skin deep. In terms of personality both Jo an Meg are stereotypical anime characters. Jo is the silent silver haired badass who is a fan of horror films. She comes across as cold, but is extremely loyal to her childhood friend Meg. On the flip side Meg, the red haired cowgirl, has an upbeat disposition and serves as the comic relief of the group. With just over twenty minutes to play with there wasn’t any chance to develop the characters although I suppose they were restricted in that regard (as the OVA is set prior to the series.) Fans of the show will be disappointed to learn that other popular characters from the series, such as Sei and Amy, fail to make an appearance.

EXTRAS

Normally anime DVDs are lacking in extras, but this release has the unusual honour of having extras that last longer than the main feature! The main extra is a battle record of the series which shows fights from all twenty four episodes. You also get some adverts and previews for each of the anime’s episodes. It’s nice to see that they tried to make up for the short OVA, by providing us with lengthy extras, but it’s a bit of a hollow gesture. The extras are basically just clips from the series, which I expect anyone interested in Infinity already owns. Why watch a selection of clips when you can see the whole thing instead?

OVERALL

I cannot recommend Burst Angel Infinity as you are basically paying for just one mediocre Burst Angel episode. If they didn’t have the budget to make a movie they could have at least tried making this into a two parter so anyone picking it up wouldn’t feel so ripped off. I pity fans of the series who originally collected the separate volumes. If they wanted to complete their Burst Angel collection they would have to fork out full price for this short OVA. If you are a fan of Burst Angel and still don’t own Infinity you at least have the hope of finding it at a bargain bin price. Your best bet however, if you don’t own the series, would be to pick up the box set which brings the whole series and OVA in one package.

Review of Bravely Default (3DS)

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Bravely Default is a Japanese role-playing game published by Square-Enix and developed by Silicon Studios, who are best known for 3D Dot Heroes (a quirky PS3 title that draws much inspiration from the classic Zelda games.) For all intents and purposes Bravely Default is a Final Fantasy game in everything but name. Fans of Square’s flagship RPG series will note that this 3DS release features familiar spell names (such as Fira, Thundaga etc) along with summons and the always-popular job system. Ironically enough with its turn based combat and random encounters Bravely Default feels more like a vintage FF game than anything Square has put out since Final Fantasy X.

STORY

The game stars Tiz Arrior who hails from the town of Norende, which has tragically been engulfed by a giant chasm. The emergence of the Great Chasm is supposedly linked to the corruption of the world’s crystals that normally keep the elements of water, air, fire and earth in check. With the aims of rectifying this travesty Tiz joins forces with Agnes, a holy vestal who is on a pilgrimage to purify the crystals. As the story advances the pair team up with an adorable fairy named Airy, Ringabel the Casanova who owns a journal that can predict the future and Edea a blonde warrior who initially starts the game pursuing Agnes, but then switches sides after seeing the atrocities her homeland’s army is committing.

A tale of four heroes searching for crystals to save the world isn’t especially original, but works well for a title that is recreating the experience of old school RPGs. To its credit the plot includes some neat twists and although the ensemble cast aren’t the most fleshed out of characters I did enjoy spending time with them. Tiz is your typical do-gooder, Agnes is a sheltered lass who finds wicked deeds to be “unacceptable”, Ringabell’s unsuccessful attempts at flirting always made me chuckle as did Edea’s tendency to utter “mrgrgr” whenever she gets annoyed. The banter between the four, showcased in Tales like cut scenes that trigger as you explore the globe, were often amusing and helped endear me to the party.

GAMEPLAY

Anyone who has played a Final Fantasy game during the 8 bit, 16 bit and Playstation eras will feel right at home with Bravely Default. Most of your time will be spent exploring dungeons and engaging in random battles that can trigger whenever you take a step in a hostile zone. The game’s combat system is a turn based one were you order your characters to attack, perform a special ability, use an item or run (coward.) Some modern gamers find these primitive mechanics to be frustrating, but the beauty of Bravely Default is that you can adjust the settings to your taste. Are you pressed for time and just want to rush ahead to the dungeon’s boss? No problem, you can disable random encounters from the menu. Do you want to quickly grind for experience? That’s fine, just fast forward the battle animations to speed up the process.

One of the unique things that Bravely Default brings to the table is the Brave/Default system that gives the title its name. By using the Brave command characters can perform up to four actions in a turn, but doing so will leave them unable to act for the next few rounds of combat. Default on the other hand allows a combatant to skip a turn, earning them a Brave Point and giving them a small defensive boost. Stored BP can be spent to use the brave command without incurring a missed turn penalty. I really enjoyed the Brave/Default system as it added an extra layer of strategy to proceedings. When facing an enemy that can become invulnerable for a round rather than waste a turn you can bank it using Default. If you are facing a tough boss, who is close to death, it may be advisable to go all out with a chain of Brave attacks to finish them off.

Another novel idea adopted by Bravely Default is the manner in which players rebuild the town of Norende. Building and upgrading stores in the settlement will grant you access to new equipment, but construction times can take several hours. To speed up the process it is possible to invite friends to your game, which makes the whole thing feel like a fantasy version of Farmville. Thankfully it is nowhere near as annoying given that you can start work on a building and leave your handheld in sleep mode until the project is finished. Acquiring sufficient friend codes to assist you with this endeavour isn’t particularly taxing either (I asked around on Facebook and message boards) and even the most antisocial of loners should have no trouble, as once a day you can connect online to recruit random Bravely Default players to your cause.

SUMMARY

My rating for Bravely Default is five stars out of five. It proves that a well-crafted JRPG, using traditional mechanics, can still be fun in this day and age. Perhaps it will make Square rethink how they approach future Final Fantasy games. Recent releases in the franchise have flopped as their efforts to introduce faster paced combat have failed to both attract new fans as well as infuriate purists. From start to finish I loved this game for the ninety-hour duration that it lasted me. I became absorbed in the highly customisable job system that allows your characters to adopt the class of defeated bosses, each with their own unique skills. At any time a character can take the role of a specific job, have access to abilities from a secondary class and pick from a selection of unlocked passive buffs. This gives you a lot of scope for tackling the challenges you come across.

There are however some flaws. The European version is sadly censored resulting in some costumes getting redesigned. Apparently killing legions of people is okay, but wearing a bikini is in the words of Agnes “unacceptable.” The story’s later chapters can also get repetitive as they involve revisiting previously cleared dungeons and facing the same enemies over and over. It didn’t bug me, but I know that a lot of other players felt a more concise adventure, with less padding, would have been a more preferable experience. Something to keep in mind for the upcoming sequel perhaps. Hopefully we won’t have to wait as long for the next instalment. Europe’s version took over a year to come out. Delays like that make me go mrgrgr.