Review of Coppelion

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Japan seems to have a knack for courting nuclear disasters. First there was the Hiroshima bombing, then the Fukushima plant tsunami crisis and in 2016 (if this anime based on Tomonori Inoue’s manga is to be believed) Tokyo will be abandoned after a meltdown renders the area uninhabitable. Thankfully the Japanese have found a perfect solution for dealing with irradiated zones – teenage schoolgirls! To be precise, Coppelion are genetically altered clones that are immune to the effects of radiation. After graduating high school they are dispatched to the former capital where they patrol the contaminated city ruins, aiding any survivors who may be trapped there.

OVERVIEW

Coppelion follows the exploits of Ibara Naruse, Taeko Nomura and Aoi Fukasaku – a trio of young ladies who offer humanitarian assistance to Tokyo’s residents, at the behest of Japan’s Ground Self-Defence Force. Squad leader Ibara, who is blessed with superhuman strength and sharpshooting skills, is the muscle of the team. Taeko’s expertize, on the other hand, lie with doing whatever the current episode’s plot demands. Need to identify a jet soaring through the skies? She has enhanced vision. Need a hound’s tracking skills to locate someone? Don’t worry, she can communicate with animals. Who can help deliver a baby? Fear not, Taeko has received medical training. Rounding off the group is Aoi the diminutive comedy relief… or at least I think that is her role. Much like Jar Jar Binks her antics tend to lean more towards annoying rather than endearing.

The show’s thirteen episodes can be broken down into three stories. The first tale sees the Healthcare Team commence their tour of Tokyo with a mission that has them searching for a missing girl. After that our heroines tangle with mercenaries who, via the illegal dumping of chemical waste, are adding to the city’s pollution problems. The final story arc, which happens to be the lengthiest, has Ibara and chums escorting a pregnant woman to safety. Standing between them and sanctuary are a pair of rogue Coppelion sisters and an army led by a gas mask wearing general (who looks like Sturm from Advance Wars.) Nintendo really should revive the Advance Wars franchise – I’m sure it would be better received than Metroid Prime Federation Force.

VERDICT

My initial impression of Coppelion wasn’t good, but the series did improve as it went along. The first two stories fell flat, as the emotional gut punch they hoped to deliver barely registered a mild stomach ache. Parents sacrificing themselves for their offspring and a scientist trying to atone for past mistakes could work, if the characters in question weren’t so one note and poorly written. The same applies to the show’s heroines and villains. The leads don’t have much of a personality and are prone to bouts of weeping whenever tragedy strikes (which is odd given that training in wasteland survival, should have toughened them up a bit.) The portrayal of the psychotic Ozu sisters is also inconsistent. One moment Kanon is using her sis Shion as a human shield and a few episodes later we are expected to believe that she cares deeply for her sibling.

Episode five is where the series started to improve in my eyes. It was from that point on that the writers abandoned the idea of telling poignant yarns and instead started to deliver mindless action. Normally that would not be a plus, but when an anime is so saturated with clichés, contrivances and coincidences having the excuse to turn off your brain comes as a welcome relief. On the plus side the car chases, gunfights and brawls were all enjoyable to watch thanks to the artistry of GoHands’ animators. The studio impressed me with their detailed backgrounds and character designs, which are drawn with thick black borders akin to what you would see in a cell-shaded video game.

My final rating is three stars. Coppelion isn’t essential viewing, but action junkies who can overlook its flaws should have some fun with the series. At the very least watching the anime taught me that when Atomic Armageddon strikes I should fly over to Japan. Getting rescued by schoolgirls in miniskirts beats the US alternative of dealing with Fallout 4 super mutants.

Review of Sword Art Online: Lost Song

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Despite a terrible localisation job, which made the game’s script read like something put through Google Auto Translate, it appears that Sword Art Online: Hollow Fragment sold reasonably well in the West. That’s good news for fans of the popular anime series because we can now expect Bandai Namco to bring over more titles featuring Kirito the pussy magnet of the online world. Lost Song is the follow up to the aforementioned Hollow Fragment. The game takes place in Svart Alfheim, a virtual reality MMO loosely based on Norse mythology, where players get to LARP about the land using avatars that resemble pixies, leprechauns and um… cat girls (Viking legends be damned – this is a Japanese game after all.)

OVERVIEW

After escaping the digital confines of Sword Art Online, the online RPG where hundreds of innocent players lost their lives, Kirito and chums decide to celebrate their freedom by exploring the newly released Svart Alfheim. Gripes, talk about pushing your luck. Kirito sounds like the type of chap who would take up skydiving after surviving a bungee accident. Thankfully for the protagonist of Reki Kawahara’s light novels, Svart Alfheim has safeguards in place to protect the wellbeing of all gamers who log onto its servers. Although the removal of permanent death is much appreciated by Alfheim’s player base, it does mean that Lost Song’s story is less exciting than its predecessor’s tale. Instead of fighting to survive, this time round Kirito and pals race against the Shamrock guild to see which party will clear Alfheim’s final dungeon first.

Lost Song’s most notable feature is that players now have the ability to soar through the skies, which comes in handy when travelling across the world’s various floating islands. Playing as a fairy may not be especially macho, but in terms of reaching your destination flight sure does beat relying on smelly public transport. In terms of combat the game has received a facelift too. Hollow Fragment’s clunky system of auto attacks and abilities tied to cool downs has been replaced with third person real time battles. Square/triangle perform weak/strong swipes whilst unsheathing your blade will allow you to cast magic. Weapon proficiency and the power of your enchantments increase naturally the more times you use a skill.

VERDICT

My rating for Sword Art Online: Lost Song is four stars. The game is a vast improvement over Hollow Fragment thanks to its superior translation, more exciting combat and the huge roster of playable characters you can choose from. Practically everyone from the SAO universe is available to directly control or set as an AI companion in your three-man party. You also have the option of creating your own characters, if you so desire, although the customisation options on offer are extremely limited. Speaking of customisation, you can tweak the appearance of your team by selecting what outfits they wear. The attire you can pick from includes bikinis and a bath towel, which is surprising in this era were bust sliders are banned and bouncy beach volleyball games are not released outside of Japan.

If I wasn’t an SAO fan I may have given Lost Song a slightly lower score because the game isn’t perfect. The graphics for example aren’t state of the art, although that is to be expected given that this is a port of a PS3/Vita release. Linked to the mediocre visuals is a disappointing lack of enemy variety. Much like a Mortal Kombat ninja, many of the foes you encounter are recolored opponents from earlier levels. As alluded to earlier, the story could be better – although I will forgive that failing, as some of the cut scenes are humorous. Much of the comedy centres on Kirito’s harem of spelunking admirers trying to get into his pants. That’s dangerous when you consider that he is already dating Asuna. Tread carefully Kirito. You are a (cat girl) whisker away from being dumped.

Review of Disgaea 5

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Disgaea 5: Alliance of Vengeance marks the arrival of Nippon Ichi Software’s tactical RPG series on current gen systems. The franchise has been doing the rounds for over ten years, since first debuting on the PlayStation 2. If you enjoy quirky anime humour and strategic warfare I strongly recommend giving the Disgaea titles a go, as they are a “blast” to play (and no I am not making a reference to the game’s penguin underlings, who are known to detonate when hurled across a battlefield.) Disgaea sequels have appeared on various consoles/handhelds and soon the PC master race will be able to partake in arctic bird abuse too, as a remake of the original is due out on home computers early next year.

OVERVIEW

The central theme of Disgaea 5, as alluded to in its title, is revenge. When the game begins players are informed that the barbarous Lord Void Dark is waging a campaign of conquest against the Netherworld’s many kingdoms. Opposing his wicked machinations is a rebel army comprised of overlords who wish to dispense retribution upon the tyrant. Leading the group is Killia, a demon with a big appetite who has vowed to punish the man responsible for murdering the cat girl of his dreams. Aiding Killia in his quest is the muscle bound ruler of Scorching Flame, a wealthy seductress, a goofy martial artist and a bespectacled tactical genius. The rebel ranks also include a petit bunny girl named Usalia who is out to assassinate the necromancer who turned her floppy eared family into zombies. If that’s not wicked enough for you – said evildoer also placed a curse on Usalia, which will turn her into a beast unless she devours a daily ration of curry.

Gameplay wise Disgaea 5 is identical to its predecessors. Players lead a ten-man squad of demonic entities and monsters against Void Dark’s forces, in a story that spans across sixteen worlds. Battles are waged on maps viewed from an isometric perspective, similar to the classic Final Fantasy Tactics, with victory requiring that you rout all of the opposition’s troops. In keeping with the vengeance motif a revenge status has been added to combat, which units may trigger whenever one of their allies is struck. Demanding payback for their pal, any character afflicted with the revenge condition is able to cast spells at a reduced cost, in addition to unleashing a special attack. Red Magnus for example can beef up his stats by growing into a titan whilst Seraphina, the gun-totting succubus, can seduce male fighters into following her commands for one turn.

VERDICT

My rating for Disgaea 5: Alliance of Vengeance is five stars. The title may be lacking in innovative new ideas, but given how highly lauded Disgaea’s turn based gameplay is you can’t blame Nippon Ichi for simply iterating on a successful formula. Although I am a huge fan of the original Disgaea there is an argument to be made for Vengeance being the franchise’s strongest title to date. From a mechanical point of view, when compared to its more clunky forerunners, Disgaea 5’s improved interface makes commanding your units a more streamlined and pleasant experience. The forty-hour story is packed with levels that will test your strategic mind and that’s barely scratching the surface of what is on offer. Those seeking a challenge can tackle the post game content and attempt to hit the level cap, which is… over nine thousand!!! (Scouter explodes.)

In terms of visuals Alliance of Vengeance is the finest looking Disgaea title to date. The game’s 2D sprites may not push the PlayStation 4’s graphical capabilities to its limits, but they are well drawn and should appeal to devotees of anime artwork. Moving onto sound, the voice cast do a stellar job of delivering their witty lines – be it Seraphina chortling after filling a peon with lead or Killia rattling off cooking ingredients, which are so obscure that they put Heston Blumenthal’s dishes to shame. All in all I can highly recommend Disgaea 5 to anyone with a passing interest in strategy RPGs. I don’t however condone the practice of turning penguins into living bombs. The world would be a much happier place if Happy Feet stuck to dancing rather than mimicking the acts of kamikaze terrorists.

Dragon Quest Heroes on Sale

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Living in a tiny country sure can suck, as I recently discovered when trying to purchase Devil Survivor 2: Record Breaker for the 3DS. Local retailers refuse to stock niche games so I had no joy there and to make matters worse Amazon UK refuse to ship the game to Gibraltar. Isn’t it nice when a British store delivers to Spain, but not the UK colony right next to it?

Thankfully Rice Digital answered my Philip J Fry pleas of “take my money now” and sold me a copy. Speaking of Rice Digital…the UK based store, named after Uncle Bens produce, is currently having a sale on Dragon Quest Heroes: The World Tree’s Woe and The Blight Below (Japanese companies don’t do short titles.)

In case you are interested click here to purchase the title at half price (for a limited time only.) They are also selling the Collector’s Edition at a discount, which comes bundled with DLC weapons, a treasure chest box and an adorable slime plushy. Not a bad deal for anyone interested in slaying hordes of foes in a Dynasty Warriors like Hack N Slash romp, featuring Dragon Quest heroines who resemble Bulma from Dragon Ball Z.

Okay, that is enough marketing for one day. I am off to enjoy my recent 3DS acquisition. As a fan of tactical RPGs I am expecting good things. Have any of you played the original Devil Survivor 2 or the Record Breaker remake? If so please let me know what you thought of it in the comments section below.

Review of Rozen Maiden Zuruckspulen

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Thank goodness that I was born a boy. My gender guarantees that I earn considerably more than a female who does the exact same job (if militant feminists are to be believed) and it also blessed me with a far more enjoyable youth. Blokes grow up by playing with cool Transformers, whilst ladies have to make do with dull dolls. Robots that morph into vehicles are cool… Barbie is not (although undressing her is somewhat stimulating.) Given how uninteresting I find dolls I should have anticipated that Rozen Maiden Zuruckspulen would bore me to tears. Available to buy in the UK courtesy of MVM Entertainment, this anime is the fourth series featuring a septet of porcelain dolls who battle against each other in a contest known as the Alice Game.

OVERVIEW

Rozen Maiden Zuruckspulen starts off by briskly summing up the story originally told in Peach-Pit’s manga. Viewers are introduced to Jun Sakurada, a recluse who refuses to attend middle school after being tormented by bullies. The youngster has confined himself to his bedroom, where he spends his days amassing a collection of useless knick-knacks. One day Jun receives a mysterious package containing a bisque doll named Shinku. He chooses to wind up the dolly, which magically brings Shinku to life – forever changing Jun’s dreary existence. Unbeknownst to him, the decision to activate Shinku has gotten Jun embroiled in the Alice Game… and even worse made him the servant of a sentient toy who has a taste for high quality tea. Her highly refined palette demands brews made from the finest leaves… so I guess serving her a pot of Tetley is out of the question.

From episode two onwards the show’s narrative slows down to a crawl. Zuruckspulen reveals itself to be a “what if” tale set in an alternate time line where Jun chose not to awaken Shinku. Taking place several years in the future, we find an adult Jun trying to intergrade back into society by attending college and working part-time at a bookshop. Sadly for the former hermit socialising with others does not come easy. His academic life is a lonely one and an acne-faced manager, who does not appreciate Jun’s efforts, makes his job unbearable. Thankfully for our mopey protagonist things begin to improve when he begins to receive parcels containing instructions on how to construct a Shinku replica. Assembling the doll will allow Jun to reacquaint with his diminutive companion, in addition to sending the college student off on an inter-dimensional adventure.

VERDICT

My rating for Rozen Maiden Zuruckspulen is two stars. The premise of seven competitors battling it out in the Alice Game sounded promising. I was half expecting a Fate/stay night clone with dolls replacing the waifu warriors from ancient history. Sadly however the series is severely lacking in action. The only doll that makes a proactive effort to win the contest is Shinku’s rival Suigintou… and she isn’t even the antagonist of the piece! That role falls to Shinku’s younger sister Kirakisho – who attempts to manipulate Jun into fashioning a body she can inhabit in order to exist in the physical realm. Action sequences are fleeting and not particularly epic. The aftermath of Suigintou tussling with Shinku for example merely leaves Jun’s apartment messily coated with flower petals and black feathers.

Instead of action Zuruckspulen’s script focuses on Jun’s humdrum routine, which sees him skive classes and endure tedious shifts at a dead end job. The show seems to reinforce the idea that shut-ins who venture outdoors are destined to a life of misery. Shinku perhaps represents how some geeks can only attain happiness via the acquisition of female figurines. All that said Jun does begin to turn his fortunes around. His meticulous bookkeeping earns him a promotion, volunteering at a theatre group allows him to exercise his fashion design talents and he even manages to snag a cute girlfriend. Hopes of a happy ending are however scuppered by a last gasp cliffhanger, which made slogging through all thirteen episodes feel like a colossal waste of time. Unless you seek a remedy for insomnia I would advise giving this snore fest of an anime a miss.

Tales from the Borderlands Review

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Borderlands is one of those gaming franchises that I desperately want to love, but just can’t get into. I dig the series’ cell shaded graphics, twisted humour and sci-fi western setting… shame then that I cannot stand the gameplay. When it comes to aiming my sniping skills rival those of a Stormtrooper, so I have always had an aversion to first person shooters. The traumatic memories of humiliating Halo multiplayer losses still keep me up at night, which may explain why I have never owned a Microsoft console. Thankfully the folks at Telltale Games have come to my rescue by releasing Tales from the Borderlands – a rib tickling spinoff adventure that forgoes fiddly gunplay in favour of delivering one of 2015’s finest video game narratives.

OVERVIEW

Tales from the Borderlands is told from the perspective of Rhys (Troy Baker) and Fiona (Laura Bailey.) Rhys is an office worker based at Hyperion’s space station whilst Fiona resides in the desert world of Pandora, where she ekes out a living by swindling lowlifes with the skills taught to her by a master thief. When the game begins Rhys is reeling at the news that his new boss has demoted him to the position of assistant vice janitor. Determined to prove his worth to the company Rhys uses some creative accounting to “borrow” ten million dollars from the Hyperion coffers, which he intends to spend on purchasing a precious vault key. Unfortunately for Rhys the key is a counterfeit being peddled by Fiona and her sister Sasha. I knew there was something amiss about that alien artefact, after spotting the phrase “made in china” stamped on the underside.

A moment of serendipity exposes the sisters’ deception to Rhys, but he still ends up losing the Hyperion funds when bandits raid the establishment where the deal is taking place. Rhys and Fiona are forced to form a temporary alliance in order to retrieve the pilfered monies. As the story progresses the pair band together with other wasteland misfits including a lesbian mercenary, adorable androids and a redneck mechanic who likes cars, women and cars (in that order.) The adventure culminates with the group unearthing the location of a bonafide extra-terrestrial vault. Securing the lucrative treasure stored within should fix their financial woes faster than you can say government bailout. First however the group will have to evade the unwanted attention of Hyperion’s upper management in addition to criminal syndicates who are hot on their heels.

VERDICT

I think Borderlands fans will be satisfied with how Tales turned out. Not only is it a fine game in its own right, but it also features cameo appearances by popular Borderlands characters including Zer0, Athena and Handsome Jack. The space cowboy setting should also appeal to players who enjoy TV shows such as Firefly. Gameplay wise it follows the Telltale blueprint for video games to a T. Strictly speaking Tales is a point and click adventure, although the scarcity of brainteasers makes the whole thing feel more like an interactive movie. Quick time events are used to resolve combat situations whilst dialogue choices determine the direction of the story. The interactivity may be limited, but it’s still a blast to play. The only real fault I can levy at the game would be the odd graphical glitch and frame rate dip, which mostly occur during the fifth chapter.

My final rating for Tales from the Borderlands is five stars. As was the case with The Walking Dead and The Wolf Among Us, the team at Telltale Games has once again taken another company’s property and turned it into a stellar game. This time round however they have delivered a lighthearted heist caper instead of a gritty adaptation, proving that the Telltale writing staff have not lost their talent for penning hilarious comedies. I had so much fun with Tales that I ended up completing the whole thing in a mere two days. It’s one of those titles that is hard to put down once you start playing. How some gamers had the patience to download each of the five episodes, as they periodically came out over the course of a year, is beyond me. Then again I am the type of guy who complains that Pop Tarts take too long to toast!

Flowers of Evil Review

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I am feeling depressed today, as my image of Japanese schools has been irreparably tarnished. Like many weeaboos I have often fantasised about attending one of Japan’s educational institutes and who could blame me? If anime is to be believed, Japanese schools are colourful places frequented by friendly professors and cute girls who wear risqué uniforms. Sure beats the bully infested dilapidated comprehensive I studied at. Sadly, Flowers of Evil has exposed how the rising sun’s academies are all too similar to western ones. The realistic rotoscope visuals show that Japanese school buildings mirror their European counterparts when it comes to mundane architecture. To make matters worse it appears that the pupils who learn there are more disturbed than any local delinquents I have ever encountered.

OVERVIEW

Kasuga Takao is a middle school bibliophile who whiles away his days consuming copious amounts of literature. His favourite paperback is the titular Flowers of Evil – a collection of dark poetry, which he absently forgets in class one day. Unable to survive without Charles Baudelaire’s poems Kasuga decides to return to his seemingly vacant school building in order to reclaim the book. Once there he stumbles upon a bag containing class sweetheart Nanako Saeki’s PE gear. Puberty being what it is, Kasuga is unable to resist rummaging through the bag… until a loud noise interrupts him. In a moment of pure panic Kasuga flees from the scene carrying Saeki’s gym clothes in tow.

The following day Saeki reports that her gym gear has been nabbed, sparking rumours that a deviant thief is on the prowl. Unfortunately for Kasuga his misdemeanour did not go undetected. Class troublemaker Sawa Nakamura witnessed the theft and uses this knowledge to intimidate Kasuga into entering a contract of subservience. Nakamura, an outcast who has a reputation for swearing at teachers and flunking exams, wishes for Kasuga to awaken his inner pervert. Under duress she forces the protagonist to commit acts of vandalism and makes him confess his feelings of love to Saeki (under the stipulation that he wear Saeki’s bloomers whilst asking her out.) Amazingly Saeki agrees to date Kasuga, so perhaps every cloud has a silver lining? Time will tell if the fledgling romance can withstand Nakamura’s assaults on Kasuga’s fragile psyche.

VERDICT

My rating for Flowers of Evil is four stars. The anime is an artistic adaptation of Shūzō Oshimi’s twisted coming of age manga. It’s not a pleasant experience, but captivating to watch nonetheless. Kasuga’s self destruction is much like an impending car accident – you know it’s not going to be pretty but a primal instinct prevents you from averting your eyes. The series is tough to recommend for casual audiences however. The slow paced narrative, which is content to spend half an episode showing the title character amble along quietly, will test the patience of some viewers. Likewise the polarising decision to rotoscope visuals (accomplished by drawing over live action footage) may irk lovers of traditional anime artwork. It didn’t bother me too much, although I was left wondering why character facial features kept vanishing and why the studio didn’t just decide to make a live action adaptation instead.

Whether you love or loathe Flowers of Evil is dependent on your threshold for deeply flawed characters. Shinji… um I mean Kasuga is weak willed, whiney and prone to overreaction. Nakamura is a mentally disturbed individual who just wants to see the world drown in faecal matter. She isn’t relatable at all, although I can sort of comprehend her distain for others given how fickle her classmates are. On the flip side Saeki is too sweet and forgiving. Despite being humiliated on multiple occasions she keeps returning to Kasuga for more punishment, much like a battered housewife.

Needless to say, Flowers of Evil is one of those animes you have to be in the right mood to watch. Regrettably overcoming all those barriers to entry will not reward you with a satisfying finale, as it all culminates in a cliffhanger teasing a second season that is unlikely to ever air. You’ll have to read the source material to see how the remainder of the story pans out. On the plus side the manga should be free of director Hiroshi Nagahama’s pretentious quirks, which I suspect were a factor in the show’s poor sales figures.