Review of Hyperdimension Neptunia Re;birth 1

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Hyperdimension Neptunia Re;Birth 1 is the first in a series of remakes scheduled to bring the Hyperdimension PS3 titles over to Sony’s handheld. This retelling of the original Hyperdimension Neptunia is a welcome sight, as it replaces the clunky mechanics of the first Neptunia with the far more polished engine used in Hyperdimension Neptunia Victory. Although the basic plot is similar to the game it is adapting, the manner in which the story plays out differs considerably. Thanks to the tweaked narrative, new roster of characters and additional features buying Rebirth shouldn’t feel like double dipping on a carbon copy, even if you happen to already own the PS3 original.

STORY

As in the other Hyperdimension Neptunia titles, the game is set in the realm of Gamindustri, where four goddesses battle for supremacy in the eternal Console War. Rebirth’s opening scene has the titular Neptune getting tripled teamed by her rivals (Noire, Vert and Blanc.) The purple haired deity is sent crashing down from the heavens to the human world where she lands on her noggin causing her to suffer from a bad case of amnesia (and possibly brain damage given that Neptune’s intellect is on par with the likes of Jessica Simpson.)

The game sees Neptune scour the land in search of Key Fragments that may have the power to restore her lost memory. Neptune’s trek along the mortal plain is assisted by nurse in training Compa and Iffy, who makes a living completing quests posted by the nation’s guild. During her exploration of Gamindustri it becomes apparent that the land is being plagued by monsters that have been unleashed by a gothic witch, who aspires to claim the power of the goddesses for her self. Can the warring goddesses reconcile their differences and halt the usurper’s ambitions? Given that two more remakes have been announced I think it is safe to say that the answer is yes 🙂

GAMEPLAY

Rebirth is broken up into eight chapters that cycle between fighting through dungeons and watching amusing visual novel like cut scenes. The determining factor on whether you’ll enjoy or loathe the franchise ultimately lies with your taste in comedy. If you are of a geeky persuasion and appreciate video game parodies there’s a good chance you’ll like the Neptunia series on some level. If on the other hand you find boob gags to be puerile I suspect that a lot of the game’s comedy will fall flat (unlike the size of Vert’s breasts.) If the one-liners don’t tickle your funny bone there’s always the chance that you can salvage some fun via the combat system so let’s touch upon that next.

Dungeon crawling involves traipsing around a level searching for the mighty boss that needs to be vanquished in order to advance the story. When Neptune bumps into one of the enemies patrolling the area a turn-based battle ensues. The clashes have the player commanding their three-man party on where to move, selecting what items/spells to use and most importantly striking foes. When launching an attack, players can string together a combo of power, break and rush moves. Power attacks drain the most health, break attacks reduce an opponent’s guard (which if shattered increases the damage they take) and rush attacks inflict the most hits (which rapidly increases the EXE bar that powers special moves.)

Initially the game can be taxing. Chapter two’s boss in particular came across as being considerably tougher than the enemies you have faced previously. Once your team levels up a bit and unlocks mightier abilities the game however becomes a doddle. The strategy of building up the EXE gauge with rush attacks and then wailing on a guardian with special moves is sufficient to overcome most of the challenges you’ll face. The bevy of characters you can recruit also makes things considerably easier. Iffy and Compa aren’t particularly potent so once they can be replaced things naturally become less vexing. To be honest most of the human characters in your party are rendered obsolete once you gain access to Neptune’s godly brethren. By transforming into goddess mode the quartet gains a substantial stat boost, which makes the mortals in your group redundant.

VERDICT

Given that a trilogy of Neptunia games has already been released for the PS3, most players should already know where they stand with this series. I suspect most people will be put off by the repetitive combat and quirky humour, but if you are in the niche that finds Compile Heart JRPGs to be charming this game will be right up your alley. As a remake, Rebirth is a substantial improvement over the original. The upgraded graphics are vastly superior to those found in its PS3 progenitor and the gameplay has been polished considerably. The story isn’t especially long, but thanks to the newly introduced remake system (that allows you to convert items into plans that unlock extra levels, enemies, weapons etc) there is a good chunk of content to tackle. I’m awarding the game four stars, although it is strictly something for fans of the series only.

Review of Psycho Pass (Season One)

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Psycho Pass is a sci-fi crime series written by the talented Gen Urobuchi (whose previous credits include the excellent Fate/Zero and Puella Magi Madoka Magica.) The first season was originally intended to come out in the UK across two volumes, but Manga Entertainment has since decided to release all twenty-two episodes in a more economical single DVD collection. Viewers who would prefer to experience this cyberpunk yarn on their Apple devices can also download the series via iTunes. Isn’t Apple wonderful? Convenient digital shopping and all the nude celebrity pics you could ever desire.

OVERVIEW

Set in the distant future, Psycho Pass follows the exploits of the Public Safety Bureau who are tasked with maintaining law and order in Japan. Thanks to advances in technology the nation’s crime figures are exceptionally low, as the Sybil System monitors the mental state of the populace. Sybil’s spying of citizens makes the UK’s excessive use of CCTV seem like amateur voyeurism. The idea is to prevent illegal acts from occurring by detecting individuals who are overly stressed, so they can be prescribed counselling. Should someone’s urges drive them to break the law their “Psycho Pass” rating will shoot up alerting the authorities.

The bureau’s hierarchy is broken down into two tiers. Inspectors are the brains of the outfit and responsible for investigating crimes. Working under them are the Enforcers who are tasked with apprehending culprits. Public Safety agents are armed with special guns dubbed Dominators that are able to scan a target’s Psycho Pass coefficient. If an offender’s Psycho Pass rating is low the Dominator will emit a blast that will stun them. Conversely, criminals with an elevated Psycho Pass score will trigger the weapon’s execution mode, which will cause them to detonate like a cranium in Scanners.

STORY/CHARACTERS

In terms of tone Psycho Pass feels a lot like Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, which is understandable given that both shows deal with futuristic law enforcement. Thematically, the Sybil System’s pre-emptive approach to deterring crime also shares similarities with Minority Report (the sci-fi blockbuster staring a diminutive Scientologist.) The first half of the series deals with the Public Safety Bureau investigating a series of gruesome murders, before moving onto an on going tale were the group is ordered to capture a serial killer named Makashima. Their mission won’t be easy given that Makashima has the ability to maintain a low Psycho Pass, regardless of how violent he gets, rendering the usually dependable Dominators useless.

Shinya Kogami is arguably the coolest character in a show blessed with a strong cast. He’s a brilliant detective who was demoted to Enforcer after the death of his partner took his Psycho Pass over the edge. Equally likable is Shinya’s superior Akane Tsunemori, who is introduced in the premier episode as a fledgling Inspector. Akane starts off as a naive lady, but as the story progresses she develops into a talented agent, who is able to remain optimistic no matter how dire things get. Akane gets props from me for being a rare example of an intelligent woman in a Japanese cartoon. She’s even spared from over sexualisation, as instead of being busty eye candy she is a short statured lass with a questionable haircut.

VERDICT

I can highly recommend Psycho Pass to anime fans everywhere. Production IG’s accomplished artists have once again delivered on the visual front and narratively Gen Urobuchi succeeds in hitting another literary home run. The script is both smartly written and deeply philosophical. When Makashima sets his sights on Sybil’s collapse one cannot help but wonder if he should be branded a terrorist or a freedom fighter. Although the Sybil System has turned Japan into a utopia, its stifling control over the populace is rather unsettling. Equally disturbing are the homicides the Public Safety Bureau investigates, which predominately feature female victims. Such things do not usually faze me, but I must admit that some of the barbaric acts I witnessed in this show did shake me up. If you have the stomach for it Psycho Pass is however worth checking out. I would rank it as one of Manga’s best 2014 releases. My final rating is five stars.

Review of Attack on Titan (Part One)

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Attack on Titan is the smash hit anime series based on the comic franchise created by artist Hajime Isayama. Manga Entertainment is releasing the first season in the UK across two DVD sets (also available on Blu Ray and digitally via iTunes.) Unsurprisingly, given the show’s popularity, the series has already broken sales records. At the time of writing Attack on Titan (Part One) has the distinction of being the anime series to sell the most copies, during its opening week, for the year 2014. It’s relatively huge sales figures, which have placed it number 95 on the British Video Association Sales Chart, rival the size of the mammoth creatures that feature in the show.

OVERVIEW

The series takes place in a world were the human race is on the brink of extinction due to the sudden appearance of man eating giants known as Titans. In order to survive, the last vestiges of humanity have banded together in a mega city, which is enclosed by towering walls that not even the humongous Titans can scale. After a century of relative peace however the unthinkable happens. A colossal Titan, that dwarves his carnivorous brethren, emerges on the scene and proceeds to demolish the settlement’s outer wall. The resulting carnage leads to twenty percent of the populace getting devoured faster than a cheesecake in my presence.

Directed by Tetsuro Araki, whose previous credits include the exceptional Death Note, Attack on Titan is a cartoon that I would not recommend to the squeamish. Gargantuan humanoids chomping down on people mean that the series contains bloody scenes featuring dismemberment. Mercifully the camera doesn’t dawdle on the gory victims and cuts away before things get too graphic (which may explain the DVD’s modest fifteen years or older age rating.) The fast paced action also plays a part in concealing the bloodshed, as it doesn’t give viewers the opportunity to dwell on the deceased. AOD’s exciting battles showcase a lot of thrilling acrobatics were humanity’s protectors target the Titan’s only known weak spot (on the nape of the neck) by launching themselves into the air via gas canisters and zip lines.

CHARACTERS

Providing some levity to proceedings are the squad of cadets, who’s training in the ways of giant slaying account for a good chunk of these opening episodes. Their entertaining banter is reminiscent of the marines you would find in live action movies such as Aliens and Starship Troopers. One good source of chuckles is Sasha Blouse who is a kleptomaniac when it comes to tasty morsels. A funny scene has her offering a pilfered spud to the platoon’s drill sergeant. Sadly the foul-mouthed Sarge declines the generous gesture… perhaps he was concerned about being nicknamed Full Metal Jacket Potato.

Attack on Titan has a substantive cast of characters although the core storyline revolves around a trio of friends who have enlisted in the Scouts. Eren Jaeger is the hotheaded protagonist who dreams of escaping the urban prison he grew up in to explore the outside world. His main motivation for joining the military is to avenge his mother who perished at the hands of the Titans. Mikasa Ackerman is arguably the coolest character in the show, which may be attributed to the fact that she shares the writer’s nationality (she’s actually the last remaining Japanese person on Earth.) Mikasa is Eren’s adoptive sister and has vowed to protect Jaeger ever since he rescued her from human traffickers. Last but not least is Armin Arlert who lacks the bravery of his compatriots, but makes up for it in the intellect department. On more than one occasion his acumen for strategy saves his pals from a tight spot.

VERDICT

My rating for Attack on Titan is a very high four out of five. The thirteen episodes I have watched are excellent although they didn’t quite satisfy the lofty expectations I had after all the hype. Visually the show is guilty of using still images on occasion, but for the most part it’s a cosmetically pleasing cartoon. The show is at its most spectacular during the action sequences, which are bolstered by background CG effects. On the audio side of things the series sports a catchy theme song and all the voice actors deliver strong performances. Bryce Papenbrook, who is no stranger to big name shows after staring in Sword Art Online, is especially impressive as the goal driven Eren. Narratively the script does a sublime job of maintaining your interest by hitting viewers with surprising twists at regular intervals. I’m eagerly awaiting the next instalment due out in October. In the meantime I shall practice my Titan imitation techniques by feasting on some Jelly Babies.

Review of Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair

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I’m An Anime Character… Get Me Out Of Here! That’s what the sixteen students of Hope’s Peak Academy must have been thinking in this sequel to one of my favourite PS Vita games. Their school trip, to the holiday resort of Jabberwock Island, goes awry when Monokuma (the sadistic robo-bear of the last Danganronpa) shows up stranding them on the isle against their will. The only way of returning home is by participating in Monokuma’s twisted murder game, which demands that participants kill one of their fellow pupils and evade guilt in the subsequent investigation. Killers who are caught will be executed for their crimes, but should they manage to avoid prosecution they can return home… condemning their remaining classmates to death.

OVERVIEW

At first glance it seems like Danganronpa 2 mimics the successful formula that worked so well in the original. Once again we have a cast of sixteen talented students, who are experts in their chosen fields, fighting for their lives in a contest that will test their deduction skills to the fullest. The only substantial change is the story’s location, which has shifted from the confines of a school building to a resort that spans several islands. Thankfully playing DR2 doesn’t feel like re-tread as the story is deeper, the mysteries are more fiendish to solve and the courtroom mini-games have been bumped up in terms of complexity. The setting also helps keep things fresh given that a holiday complex offers more varied locales to explore than the original’s selection of academy rooms.

In terms of gameplay, I would liken this title to Virtue’s Last Reward or the Phoenix Wright series. The whole experience borders on being a visual novel, which delivers its tale via text boxes and still pictures, with interactivity coming in the form of brain teasing mini-games. Story telling is what Danganronpa 2 excels at and should appeal to anyone who loves a good whodunit caper. The cartoony art style belies how cleverly crafted the mysteries you investigate are. The game is packed with surprising twists and more red herrings than a fishmonger’s establishment that has been flooded in crimson paint. Uncovering the identity of a perpetrator is seldom easy given that in most of cases the guilty party does a commendable job of covering their tracks.

Aside from the thrill of solving a mystery I’d wager that most players will be motivated to play in order to bring the class killers to justice. Hope’s Peak Academy’s students are a lot of fun to interact with, so it’s always an emotional moment when one of them unexpectedly perishes. The cast includes a deranged loon blessed with good fortune, the monarch of a tiny European nation, a well-endowed gymnast with an insatiable appetite and a hamster breeder who constantly rambles on about the occult. Strong writing elevates the group from being goofy anime caricatures to fleshed out characters whose backstories are delved into during the free time you get between cases.

GAMEPLAY

To say that Danganronpa 2 is just a riveting read would be doing it a disservice. After a murder scene has been surveyed for clues the class trial begins, which will test a players wits in addition to their reflexes. Once court is in session Hajime (the protagonist) needs to convince the jury of classmates to vote wisely in electing the correct murder suspect. Like in the first game, evidence you have collected is transformed into truth bullets that can be used to blast away contradictory testimony. Various mini-games also need to be completed in order to deduce the culprit :-

1. Hangman’s Gambit: A twist on the popular word game were you try to uncover the hidden phrase by shooting down letters that scroll across the screen. You have to aim fast because if two letters crash, into each other, you’ll suffer damage to your energy bar.

2. Rebuttal Showdown: A fierce debate were you must swipe away your opponent’s words before hitting triangle to expose a flaw in their argument.

3. Logic Drive: Help Hajime surf on a virtual snowboard. At certain points in the course you’ll be asked a question, which is answered by veering down the corresponding path. Pick the wrong response and our hero will plummet down to his doom.

4. Closing Argument: Complete a comic strip outlining how the murder went down by picking from a stockpile of images. It’s easier to suss out than in the first game thanks to the more detailed picture descriptions.

5. Panic Talk Action: A rhythm game were you press x, in tempo with the background music, to blow away your rival’s desperate excuses.

VERDICT

My rating for Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair is a five out of five. From the Vita’s modest games library I would rank it as a must own title. Players who are not familiar with the franchise are however strongly encouraged to tackle the original first, as the sequel’s later chapters contain numerous references to its predecessor. Given that the game was originally a PSP release it is far from technologically advanced, but presentation wise I cannot fault it. Anime fans will dig the character designs and artwork along with the cardboard cut out effects that pop out at you when a room loads up. The English voice cast are excellent and the game’s soundtrack does a fine job of livening up the trial stages.

By its very nature Danganronpa 2 may not have much replay value, as revisiting the story isn’t much fun when you already know the outcome, but I still feel the game is worth the full retail asking price. The main campaign is rather lengthy and completing it unlocks a number of extras to keep you entertained. These include a digital novel, a five level arcade game were you help a bunny battle mechanical beasts and Island Mode – an alternative storyline were Monokuma is vanquished from the offset. With the threat of assassination removed players can build up relationships with the entire cast to view character specific endings. Hurrah for happy finales. I’m glad that Monokuma doesn’t triumph, as he is a beary bad boy.

Review of Final Fantasy: A Realm Reborn

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Final Fantasy 14: A Realm Reborn is the second MMO to be associated with the legendary RPG franchise. Square-Enix’s first foray into MMOs (Final Fantasy 11) wasn’t a runaway success like Blizzard’s World of Warcraft, but it is probably the most profitable FF title to date (given that it has commanded monthly subscription fees from its player base for over a decade.) Final Fantasy 11 is now showing its age so it’s no surprise that Square decided to launch a new MMO back in September 2010 to replace it. The original Final Fantasy 14 was however such a shambolic mess that an embarrassed Square opted to waiver the monthly subscription fee allowing buyers (who could stomach it) to play it for free. A terrible release is normally fatal for an MMO, but against the odds Final Fantasy 14 has managed to recover. Under the stewardship of director Naoki Yoshida (Dragon’s Quest) the game was re-launched as “A Realm Reborn” and transformed from a dud into one of the better MMOs in the current market.

OVERVIEW

Set in the magical world of Eorzea, players don the role of an adventurer assisting the nations of Gridania, Limsa Lominsa and Ul’dah in their tribulations with the sinister Garlean Empire. When designing your avatar players can choose from a handful of races including your standard human and elves in addition to the towering Roegadyn, lovable Lalafells and the feline Miqo’te. Unsurprisingly, in a game populated by single men of a geeky persuasion, Eorzea’s most popular race is the Miqo’te. Regardless of what region you choose to explore one thing is certain – the number of cat girls you encounter will be plentiful. It’s almost like visiting a virtual anime cosplay convention (not that I am complaining.)

Aside from the feline eye candy, trekking across Eorzea is a visual treat thanks to the game’s graphics, which rival those of the gorgeous single player Final Fantasies. Eorzea’s landscapes include woods, deserts and coastal beaches that each have unique creatures to battle. The appealing aesthetics thankfully do not come at the detriment of performance. In addition to its stunning looks, the game runs smoother than some less flashy MMOs I could mention (cough Star Wars: The Old Republic.) Clearly Final Fantasy is better optimized, although whilst questing I did experience some latency issues that I will attribute to Square’s servers. It’s just a minor quibble, but it can get frustrating when you get bashed by an enemy even though you have positioned yourself well outside their strike range.

GAMEPLAY

One of the game’s best features would have to be its job system, which permits characters to adopt whatever role they desire. This is a godsend for someone, such as myself, who rarely makes progress in MMOs (as I cannot resist creating multitudes of new characters just to sample how each class plays.) If you started your adventure as a magical healer and then decide to try out something else that’s no problem. Swapping over to a damage dealer or defensive tank is as simple as replacing your staff with a bow or sword. Levelling up different classes is actually encouraged as it unlocks advanced jobs in addition to granting you access to additional abilities (for example a gladiator can cast some healing spells if you happen to have some levels in conjuror.)

As with most MMOs levelling up involves earning experience by slaying mobs and completing quests. Final Fantasy 14’s quests aren’t revolutionary (kill a certain number of enemies, travel to a town to talk with an NPC etc) but the main ones are at least delivered via entertaining cut scenes that trump the dull text boxes World of Warcraft uses. If questing isn’t your thing there are other options available to you too. The most common one are the FATEs that appear in certain zones. These allow any players in the vicinity to band together and earn an experience point reward by defeating a powerful monster, slaying waves of enemies or escorting a vulnerable NPC to safety. Eventually you’ll unlock dungeons that can be tackled by four man parties. On average a dungeon can be cleared in around thirty minutes, but if you are in a rush you can try a guildhest instead. These four player missions are designed to teach you the game’s basics and can be finished in around five minutes.

VERDICT

My rating for Final Fantasy: A Realm Reborn is a five out of five. I normally give up on MMOs after a few weeks play, but Final Fantasy has managed to retain my interest for a number of months now. Unlike some other games, that get stale once you hit the level cap, there’s always something to do. Aside from having a plethora of classes to level up there are hunts for upgrading your gear, crafting skills to learn and special events to partake in. Even if it is essentially a World of Warcraft clone I am enjoying it far more than Blizzard’s effort thanks to its setting. Give me Moogles over humanoid pandas any day! Besides, who can resist the appeal of riding atop a Chocobo? It’s a must for anyone who has ever dreamt of mounting an ostrich.

For a game designed with consoles in mind I was impressed by the depth of its customisable interface along with the control scheme that functions well whether you choose to play with a controller or a traditional keyboard/mouse setup. Another highlight would have to be the game’s score, which continues the Final Fantasy tradition of boasting stellar music. The quality tunes on offer made me abandon my usual MMO routine, which normally involves muting the sound so I can listen to podcasts whilst I grind. It’s no wonder that Final Fantasy soundtracks have been known to crack the BBC classical charts. Shame that Square’s customer support team isn’t as good as their musical talent. They have been no help in resolving the payment issue preventing me from subscribing with my debit card. To play I therefore have to resort to costly game cards. It’s an inconvenience I will tolerate however as the game is so enjoyable.

Review of Red Garden

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Red Garden is an anime series created by Studio Gonzo, which runs for a total of twenty-two episodes plus one OVA. Set in The Big Apple, the show follows a quartet of female students who attend a prestigious school situated on Roosevelt Island. The four heroines named Kate, Claire, Rachael and Rose are thrust into a nightmarish battle for survival after a clandestine organisation saves them from death by transferring their souls into new superhuman bodies. In order to extend their second lease at life the group are forced into battling monsters that appear on nights when crimson coloured butterflies manifest.

Previously distributed by the now defunct ADV Films, viewers based in the UK can presently purchase the entire series courtesy of MVM Entertainment. At the time of writing Amazon have one copy left in stock for £29. My suggestion would be to visit United Publications instead, who are selling the same set for a more modest £17. The series should appeal to fans of horror and mysteries, as it features some visceral kills in addition to exploring a conspiracy surrounding the cult that reanimated the girls. Despite its premise, Red Garden shouldn’t however be dismissed as a mindless action show. Scenes featuring brutal battles are used sparingly, with the script instead preferring to focus on how the lives of the leads are affected by their new monster slaying duties.

Kate for example finds that her after dark activities are compromising her education. Exhausted from regular creature confrontations she begins arriving tardy to class, which blemishes her previously perfect attendance record. This could result in her expulsion from Grace (an elite group of prefects composed of the school’s brightest pupils.) Claire on the other hand has no qualms about schooling, as she is a serial truant. She is however struggling to make ends meet after feuding with her dad and running away from home. Getting summoned to scrap with monsters means that she regularly disappears from her diner job mid-shift. The absences are affecting her earnings, which she can ill afford as she is well overdue on her rent.

Out of the four leads Rose is the weakest both in terms of mental fortitude and physicality. During life threatening situations she can often be found cowering in the corner, but it’s tough not to have sympathy for her plight. Her self-preservation does not emanate from cowardice, but from the need to stay safe as others are depending on her. With her mother bedridden, due to illness, the responsibility of raising Rose’s younger siblings falls on her. Given that her family’s fate is squarely on her shoulders she cannot afford to perish at the hands of inhuman beasts.

Last but not least is Rachael Benning who is introduced as a spoilt rich brat whose only concerns are keeping up with the world of fashion and attending lavish parties. Her story arc mostly deals with the strained relationship she and her boyfriend share. As expected her supernatural commitments have taken a toll on her social life, but perhaps it will prove to be a blessing in disguise. The predicament she finds herself in is a real eye opener on how unfulfilling her existence has been up till now. Unsatisfied with her previous lifestyle a hunger for knowledge and drive to improve oneself awakens within her.

My rating for Red Garden is a five out of five. I suspect the show’s pacing will be too slow for some, but I personally lapped up the captivating plot and solid character development. The show reminds me of Shiki in the manner that it leaves its otherworldly elements on the periphery in favour of examining how the cast grow to meet the challenges they face. The plot sees the heroines caught in the middle of two warring factions, but there aren’t strictly any clear-cut bad guys. Both the group manipulating the girls and the pharmaceutical company, linked with the creatures they face, have justifiable motivations for their actions, which delivers a deeper narrative than your typical anime release.

The OVA, although tonally very different to the main series, is a welcome addition to the collection given that is serves as an epilogue to episode twenty-two’s abrupt finale. Visually I was impressed with the show’s art style even if the colour palette is more muted than what you normally find in a typical Japanese cartoon. Great care has been put into making every character look distinct, from the animation of their mannerisms to the cast’s wardrobe choices. My only gripe with the artwork would have to be with the iffy look of noses during some profile shots. I also didn’t care for how in some scenes characters would randomly burst into song. It feels like the producers briefly considered turning the show into a horror musical only to abandon the idea a few episodes in. Just as well as the English language voice cast didn’t seem up to the task. Japan please stick to mature cartoons. You can leave the song and dance routine to Disney.

Review of The Walking Dead: Season Two

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The Walking Dead: Season Two sees Telltale return to the franchise that made them famous. Prior to 2012 Telltale had a good reputation for developing fun point & click adventures based on TV, movie and retro gaming licenced properties. They however hit the mainstream big time thanks to their take on the grisly Robert Kirkman zombie comic (now also a popular television series.) Season one’s five-part adventure deservedly scooped up numerous game of the year accolades thanks to its mature storyline that focuses heavily on character relationships. It was the best game that I played back in 2012 and ever since then I have been eagerly anticipating the follow up. Well the wait is finally over. With all five episodes now released it is time to reveal if Season Two is another classic or a Romero style un-dead sequel flop.

Like with most Telltale releases, The Walking Dead: Season Two is divided up into five instalments. Players can purchase each part separately or buy the entire collection for a minor discount. The game is available to download for practically every current gen gaming system and is due to get a boxed retail release later this year. Warning! Although I will try to keep things vague, the remainder of this review may contain spoilers.

STORY

The second chapter in The Walking Dead saga has players taking control of Clementine, the young girl they fought so hard to protect back in season one. When it was originally announced that Clem would be the protagonist of this title I was apprehensive to see how her upgrade from support character to protagonist would work out. Could an innocent and softly spoken child carry the weight of a blockbuster game on her shoulders? Well as it turns out she can. Since we last saw Clementine the toll of growing up in a world plagued with carnivorous cadavers has forced her to toughen up. She’s matured into a more assertive zombie slaying veteran who isn’t shy about dishing out the occasional sarcastic quip whenever the situation demands it.

When episode one kicks off we see Clem reunite with a pair of familiar faces, from season one, but sadly the reunion is short lived. Things turn sour culminating with the cap-wearing heroine fending for herself in some dangerous woods. After a scrape with an unfriendly mutt, Clementine eventually finds a new party of travelling companions to band with. The group initially treat Clementine with suspicion (mistaking the dog bite she suffered previously with a zombie wound) but after proving her worth she is eventually welcomed into the fold. Travelling in a pack offers the benefit of increased security, but on the negative side it also means that Clementine inherits the group’s troubles too.

This soon becomes apparent in episode two when it is revealed that a ruthless psycho named William Carver is pursuing Clementine’s new buddies. Out manned and out gunned, Clementine and pals are eventually captured by Carver’s goons setting up the third episode. Titled “In Harm’s Way” players are tasked with helping Clem escape a life of slave labour by finding a way out of the Carver led compound she is imprisoned in. The final two episodes cover the group’s desperate fight to stay alive in the inhospitable wilderness, were freezing temperatures and a lack of supplies begin to cause friction within the previously friendly ranks. In the end Clementine’s biggest threat isn’t the horde of un-dead zombies hounding her, but living humans who are capable of committing the worst atrocities imaginable under the justification of survival.

VERDICT

My rating for The Walking Dead: Season Two is a four out of five. It’s another example of an excellent Telltale release that is arguably better than the source material it is based on. Once you start playing the game it’s hard to put down thanks to the solid writing and cliffhangers that signal the end of each episode. On average each part can be completed within two hours, but you won’t feel short changed as the writers pack a lot of drama into the limited running time (plus the whole package is very reasonably priced.) Visually the game’s comic book graphics are identical to season one given that the same engine powers both titles. On the audio sound of things I thought that the soundtrack complemented the tone of the story well and the entire voice cast did an exemplary job portraying their characters.

The game won’t be to everyone’s taste though due to the dark tone of the narrative, which features gruesome deaths and patchwork first aid that will make sensitive players squirm. Some people may also not like the limited gameplay on offer that boils down to quick time events, walking down linear paths and conversing with characters. For all intents and purposes The Walking Dead: Season Two is an interactive novel. Even the token puzzles seen in season one (fixing a radio, manipulating levers to start a train etc) are absent from this sequel. Overall Season Two is an excellent game, although as my rating suggests it isn’t on the same level as the original or even The Wolf Among Us, which Telltale recently released.

Perhaps my expectations were too high, but in terms of plot I think season one was better paced. Episodes two and three are captivating stuff, but once the conflict with Carver gets resolved it feels like the writers run out of ideas. The remaining two parts peter out into nothing more than squabbles and tackling a mentally unstable friend who is driven to breaking point by stress. It will be interesting to see how the recently announced season three fares. The comics and TV show were big hits until audiences began to tire of seeing likable cast members perish. With the shock value of unexpected deaths waning how will Telltale retain the interest of desensitized players?