Review of No Game No Life

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The number of lives extinguished by the ravages of war is well and truly tragic. I would always advocate diplomacy over violence, when settling a conflict, but that is easier said than done when you consider that rival factions often have diametrically opposed viewpoints. Perhaps humanity should adopt the legal system followed by the residents of Disboard, a fantasy realm where all grievances are resolved through playing games. Umm… on second thought, maybe that isn’t such a swell idea. If gaming were used to determine territorial disputes I suspect that South Korea would conquer the globe, by challenging Earth’s various nations to a Starcraft duel!

OVERVIEW

No Game No Life is a twelve-episode anime based on the bestselling light novels penned by Yu Kamiya. The series follows the adventures of an unbeatable gaming duo who play under the moniker of Blank (UK readers I am sorry to report that filling in that blank will not earn you a chequebook and pen… rest in peace Terry Wogan.) Blank is actually a brother/sister team of shut-ins who have a reputation for dominating online competitions, be they arena shooters or matches of digital chess. The anonymous pair is made up of Shiro (a book smart eleven year old) and her older sibling Sora (a perverted teenager who excels at bluffing.)

After the events of episode one Shiro and Sora find themselves in Disboard. The talented twosome was transported away from their Japanese abode after answering the challenge of Disboard’s deity Tet. It was agreed that Blank’s members could inherit godlike power by besting Tet in a game, but in order to reach the bugger they are first expected to unite Disboard’s sixteen warring races. In line with Disboard’s ten holy pledges, which forbid the use of force, subjugating the world’s kingdoms will require that Blank beat the head of each land in a game of their own choosing. Things kick off with a Texas Holdem tournament (or should that be Strip Poker, given all the fan service on show) that is being held to crown Elkia’s new monarch.

Over the course of the series Shiro and Sora play a multitude of games including Othello, Blackjack, Rock-Paper-Scissors and a virtual reality Gal*Gun clone. On the line is ownership of a library, sovereignty over some neighbouring islands and even Sora’s very existence. Blank’s gaming prowess is put to the test, as their opponents possess supernatural abilities that put the human protagonists at a severe disadvantage. Examples of the foes Blank are pitted against include Warbeast ambassador Izuna Hatsuse (who has superhuman dexterity) and Jibril a magic casting angel, who has an unquenchable thirst for knowledge. Jibril is the anime’s best girl by the way, because she has a massive pair of breas… um wings.

VERDICT

My rating for No Game No Life is four stars. Although the series fails to fully capitalize on its intriguing premise, it’s an enjoyable enough piece of light entertainment. The artwork is a visual treat boasting a smorgasbord of colours and watching how Blank managed to outwit their nemeses was always fun. Viewers who cannot suspend their disbelief may however dislike the series. The outcome of certain games did after all rely on the type of flimsy logic that one would find in a Yu-Gi-Oh cartoon. I also expect that the overabundance of eye candy will scare off some audiences. Gawking at the well-endowed ladies is okay, but I must question why some of the fan service featured Shiro. Panty shots involving a minor are unwelcome, although Rolf Harris may argue otherwise.

It’s a shame that No Game No Life’s anime adaptation only spanned for a dozen episodes. Fans are now playing the waiting “game” to see if the second season teased at the end of episode twelve will ever see the light of day. Madhouse has yet to deliver sequels for Btooom or Highschool of the Dead, so I doubt the outcome of that game will be a positive one.

No Heroes Allowed: No Puzzles Either! Review

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For better or worse free to play games are all the rage these days. Software developers have embraced the drug-dealing stratagem of “the first one is free.” Browse any mobile phone app store and you will find a plethora of titles promising fun for nowt. The catch is that once your hooked you’ll inevitably hit an impassable obstacle, which can only be circumvented by dipping into your financial reserves. Curse ye sudden difficulty spikes… and don’t get me started on that pesky energy bar, which takes hours to replenish. This type of pay model isn’t limited to Chinese programmers peddling the latest Farmville knock-off though. Even giant corporations like Sony are in on the act. Case and point – No Heroes Allowed: No Puzzles Either! for the PlayStation Vita.

OVERVIEW

No Heroes Allowed: No Puzzles Either! is a fantasy themed match three puzzler developed by Sony Computer Entertainment. The aim of the game is to prevent the nefarious Lord Badman from being apprehended by meddlesome heroes (thankfully said heroes don’t include the Avengers, or else we would be royally screwed.) During each level a party of three adventurers shall descend down from the surface. Players must vanquish the do-gooders before they reach the subterranean lair at the bottom of the screen, where Badman resides. In order to defeat the invading knights and sorcerers you’ll be required to summon forth an army of monsters, which is accomplished by lining up three tiles of the same colour on a 5×7 grid.

As you progress through the sixty-four level campaign enemies become more durable and will gain the ability to transform coloured tiles into useless metal blocks. Overcoming these mightier foes will require that players upgrade their monstrous minions, much like how Apple expects consumers to upgrade their phones annually. To raise a creature’s attributes players can feed their beasties snacks, obtainable through mining. Monsters can also evolve into beefier forms by sacrificing the heroes you sometimes capture at the end of a stage. Generally speaking evolved monsters deal greater damage than their predecessors, but some critters also acquire additional skills too. The powers in question range from poisonous strikes to attacks that make an opponent temporarily snooze.

VERDICT

My rating for No Heroes Allowed: No Puzzles Either! is four stars. Like I commented on my Huniepop review, I am a sucker for a good match three game (provided that it isn’t coded by the litigious scumbags responsible for Candy Crush.) The brain-teasing nature of the gameplay is a lot of fun and I also approved of the title’s RPG mechanics. As someone lacking smarts I welcomed the option of levelling up monsters to make taxing stages a little less tough. Other pluses in No Heroes Allowed’s favour are its charming 8 bit visuals and the humorous dialog spouted by Badman. Although some cheapskates may not find his utterings to be funny, I couldn’t help but chuckle when he goaded me to spend my own COLD HARD CASH during a tutorial segment.

Speaking of cash, I feel that No Heroes Allowed does free to play in an ethical way. I normally loathe micro-transactions because they prey on compulsive players who lack any sense of self-control. Some free to play titles are nothing more than slot machines designed to milk gamers via ludicrously expensive single use items. No Heroes Allowed on the other hand is more of a glorified demo. Theoretically speaking you could beat the game without spending a dime, but it would require supreme patience given that the title limits how often you can play on a daily basis. If you enjoy the free version you might as well pay the modest sum of £8.00 to unlock the restriction free full experience. Although freebies are nice, I am more than okay with compensating a developer that has given me over sixteen hours worth of entertainment.

Mirai Nikki (Future Diary) Collection 1 Review

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Fourteen-year-old Yuki Amano is a hermit in the making. Rather than interact with others, the unsociable middle school student prefers to observe life and jot down anything notable on his mobile phone journal. Crikey, what a masochist. Who would want to chronicle their entire autobiography on a cellular device? Just typing short Twitter messages on an iPhone is already cumbersome enough. I suppose he has abundant texting practice, as the only person he speaks to is an imaginary friend named Deus Ex Machina. What Yuki doesn’t realize however is that Deus Ex Machina isn’t actually make-believe. He is in fact a bonafide deity with power over time and space!

OVERVIEW

The opening episode of Future Diary (known as Mirai Nikki in Japan) begins with Deus Ex Machina revealing to his teen pal that he is a supernatural entity. He demonstrates this by upgrading Yuki’s phone. Rather than detailing past events Yuki’s journal now has a soothsaying feature, which accurately predicts what will occur in the future. Yuki isn’t the only recipient of a “future diary” though. Deus Ex Machina has bestowed spoilerific journals to a dozen humans and decreed that they should battle to the death, in order to determine who will replace Deus as the new god of time and space. Evidently divine beings are fond of Hunger Games like competitions.

If I had to pick who would win the Deus Ex sponsored Battle Royale Yuki would be bottom of the list. A hapless dweeb, who is moderately good at darts, shouldn’t fare well against rivals whose ranks include a terrorist bomber and a posh loon that commands a pack of carnivorous canines. Thankfully for our reclusive protagonist he has attracted the services of an unlikely bodyguard. Classmate Yuno Gasai is a fellow competitor in the life or death elimination tournament, but she has no desire to harm Yuki. The pink haired beauty is in fact infatuated with Mr Amano and has been stalking him ever since he jokingly suggested that they should wed. Somehow I doubt that he would have uttered those sentiments had he realized that Yuno is an unhinged serial killer.

Much like dating a smoker, courting a psychopath is generally undesirable. Poor Yuki has no say in the matter though, as Yuno possesses a diary that receives updates pinpointing his location on ten-minute intervals. On the plus side being partnered with a protector who is adept at disembowelling others can be advantageous when ten assassins are on your trail. No one likes a clingy girlfriend however, especially when your possessive main squeeze thinks that murdering family and friends is a reasonable solution for securing some quality alone time with her man.

VERDICT

Future Diary (Collection One) gets a rating of five stars from me. The series is shaping up to be one of my favourite animes of all time, so fingers crossed that the second half maintains the quality showcased in this DVD set’s thirteen episodes. As a fan of Death Note I especially appreciated the script’s paranormal elements, the shows’ colourful cast of characters and its rollercoaster ride of suspenseful twists and turns. It’s fun seeing how Deus Ex’s twelve handpicked participants vie to outsmart each other, which is no mean feat when you consider that they are all capable of foretelling future events. Alliances are formed and people double cross each other with the regularity of a Conservative Party U-Turn.

Despite my praise, squeamish audiences may want to give Mirai Nikki a wide berth given that it features visceral violence, rape references and a painful scene of ocular extraction. It’s amazing that the ERSB gave this series a fifteen-age rating, when you consider that Oreimo was rated eighteen merely for having a few adult gags. It’s not all macabre though, with the after credit skits featuring Deus’ impish sidekick Muru Muru being particularly funny. Unconventional as it may be, I also thought that the Yuki/Yuno romance was cute at times. The pair complements each other quite well. Yuno does a fine job of shielding Yuki from the consequences of his naivety whilst Yuki serves as the couple’s moral compass.

One concern I have with the UK release of Future Diary is the prolonged gap between instalments. A quick search on Amazon reveals that the concluding chapter is due out in July (although I suspect it may come out even later given that Kaze products have a reputation for suffering delays.) That is quite insufferable when you consider the doozy of a cliffhanger that collection one concludes on. You don’t need a Nostradamus brand mobile to prophesize that sales will be lost, as impatient viewers resort to importing from abroad or worse yet stream the finale via less than legal means.

Review of Mitsurugi Kamui Hikae

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Students based in Japan have far tougher lives than their western counterparts. Back when I was a lad the most stressful thing on my agenda was completing math homework on time. Compare that to the curriculum followed by Japanese schoolgirl Misa. Not only does the pigtailed protagonist of Mitsurugi Kamui Hikae have academic duties to fulfil, but she is also expected to master fencing in order to battle demonic hordes. Her prowess with a sword will come in handy as she slices her way past an army of fiends in pursuit of a classmate that has been corrupted by a cursed blade.

OVERVIEW

Mitsurugi Kamui Hikae is a hack n slash brawler created by indie developer Zenith Blue. The game has been doing the rounds on Steam for two years now and is finally available to download on next gen consoles. I bet the PC master race are feeling all smug about getting the game first, but they shouldn’t gloat too much because PS4 owners can at least claim that their version of Arkham Knight actually works. The aim of this Japanese made arena fighter is to dispatch waves of enemies until the end of level guardian makes their presence known. Defeat said boss and passage to the next stage shall be granted.

Slaying foes can be accomplished via a combination of sword swipes and skull crushing melee attacks. Katana inflicted carnage deals the most damage, but be aware that the weapon cannot be used indefinitely as it depletes Misa’s blade meter. To replenish the gauge players are expected to occasionally pummel targets with a flurry of weedier punches and kicks. Misa’s modest repertoire of offensive maneuverers can be expanded throughout her quest by spending the orbs reaped from fallen adversaries. The orbs can be used to buy health upgrades, unlock new skills and purchase a new uniform (because no girl can resist clothes shopping.)

VERDICT

My rating for Mitsurugi Kamui Hikae is three and a half stars. It gets an above average score, as the combat is surprisingly solid for a budget title that retails for under a tenner. The action feels like a simplified DMC, starring an attractive heroine in place of emo Dante. Although the story mode’s five levels can be cleared within an hour, you’ll need to play through the adventure multiple times to earn all the trophies on offer. On the easiest difficulty you can get by on mindless button bashing, but more tactful play will be required to conquer the higher difficulties. Surviving hard mode will demand fast reflexes, mastery of the parry command and well timed counter attacks.

Despite enjoying the game Mitsurugi Kamui Hikae has a few niggles. My chief complaint lies with the positioning of the camera, which sometimes resulted in my attacks getting interrupted by out of view assailants. More enemy variation would have been nice too, as most of the grunts you face are either generic automatons or masked swordfighters sporting snazzy tuxedoes. Finally the graphics could use a facelift, as the visuals are of PS3 quality. I have no complaints with Misa’s design though. A mini-skirt wearing schoolgirl, cartwheeling across the screen, is fine by me 😉 Surprisingly Misa’s underwear is black whilst her villainous rival Suzuka prefers white panties. Who says that video games aren’t educational? Through ogling digital women I have learnt that a person’s alignment isn’t tied to the colour of their undergarments.

Review of Love, Election and Chocolate

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Howdy faithful readers. Today I shall be reviewing love, election and chocolate. After much deliberation I have decided to award love and chocolate an A plus, because who doesn’t enjoy a bit of romance and a calorie rich Mars bar? Politics are dull however so I am giving elections an E grade. Hehe, just kidding! Love, Election and Chocolate is actually the localized name of an anime series, which is known as Koi to Senkyo to Chokoreto over in its native Japan. Based on an adult visual novel, developed by a company named Sprite, the show is made up of twelve episodes along with one solitary OVA. Despite featuring the words love and chocolate in the title, this UK Blu-Ray set narrowly misses out on a Valentines Day release and instead comes out on the 22nd of February.

OVERVIEW

High school student Yuki Ojima and childhood friend Chisato Sumiyoshi are part of Takafuji Academy’s after school Food Research Club. Every day, after class, the group’s members meet to chow down on an assortment of delicious confectionaries (yum… sounds much more fun than my comprehensive’s Chess Club.) Unfortunately for the Food Research group’s sweet-toothed regulars their club’s existence is under threat due to the upcoming student council presidential elections. Satsuki Shinonome, the busty head of the financial affairs department, has entered the race vowing to cut down on extracurricular expenditure. Top of her manifesto commitments is the termination of any clubs that waste their budget on frivolous activities… such as snacking down on sugary treats.

In order to save his beloved club, Yuki reluctantly agrees to sign up as a candidate in the upcoming polls. Convincing voters to pick him over Satsuki won’t be easy though, particularly as everyone has such a tough time recalling his name. With the support of his friends, and mentorship from the incumbent student council president, Yuki does however emerge as a dark horse in the contest. His knack for impromptu speeches and creative fund raising (which involves the sale of um… homosexual comics) serves him well during the primaries. A little too well perhaps, as his performance attracts the attention of clandestine groups who seek to rig the ballot. The seemingly innocent election soon escalates into a battle royale were abductions and physical abuse are not off the table. Blimey, these kids make a Tump/Clinton debate seem civil.

VERDICT

My rating for Love, Election and Chocolate is four stars. Although the series starts off slow, things improve once the titular election gets into full swing. The silly OVA was my least favourite episode, as it was a pointless cooking duel (bah, why couldn’t we have gotten a bikini filled trip to the beach instead?) If I had to compare this anime to another title I would liken it to Robotics;Notes, given that both shows feature clubs who must compete in order to stave off extinction. Another similarity between the two is how the script skirts between light-hearted flippancy and touching drama. One moment you’ll see Satsuki tease her political rival with goofy nicknames and in the next scene she will be involved in an emotional family feud with her estranged sister (a beer swigging teacher who somehow avoids dismissal, despite fraternizing with her students.)

One thing I enjoyed about Love, Election and Chocolate is how the student council presidency is a microcosm, used to explore the seedier side of politics found in larger scale national elections. The injection of harem hijinks to the mix does however ensure that things never get too cerebral. As expected from a story whose roots lie within a visual novel, Yuki attracts the admiration of various girls (and one guy) over the course of the show’s dozen episodes. Out of the many potential pairings Yuki x Chisato gets the most screen time. Their romance is initially presented as a stereotypical courtship between childhood pals, but things change when Chisato’s tragic backstory is revealed. Does she truly desire a boyfriend or is she just a fragile girl seeking companionship from a surrogate big brother?

You’ll have to wait until February 22nd to find out… providing that the UK Blu-Ray release isn’t delayed. Fingers crossed that Love, Election and Chocolate doesn’t end up coming out choco-later than scheduled.

Review of Final Fantasy Explorers

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There was once a time when purchasing a Final Fantasy product guaranteed you a story rich RPG. Sadly those days have long since past. After blowing most of their budget on a CGI movie flop and merging with former rivals Enix, Squaresoft became a money grubbing conglomerate that will stick the Final Fantasy label on anything to make a quick buck. Final Fantasy Explorers happens to be one of those plot anaemic FF spin-offs, but thankfully the gameplay on offer isn’t half bad. Drawing inspiration from Capcom’s Monster Hunter franchise, players take control of an explorer who stumbles upon a rural hamlet (after cowardly fleeing from a dragon.) Using your monster hunting um… exploration skills you decide to eek out a living at your new home by completing the local guild’s quests.

OVERVIEW

Final Fantasy Explorers is a third person action RPG, not dissimilar to Toukiden: Age of Demons. Players begin life as a weedy Freelancer whose repertoire of moves is limited to attacking and running. Sounds a bit dull huh? Well, fear not because advancing the “story” will grant you access to new abilities and a range of new jobs. There are over twenty classes that you can play as including ninjas, paladins and alchemists (who disappointingly lack any Edward style metal appendages.) When venturing out of town, on a mission, you can equip yourself with up to eight skills. Executing these special moves consumes action points, which naturally replenish over time (a process that can be accelerated by striking enemies with regular attacks.)

Like many other games in the genre the appeal of Final Fantasy Explorers is the incentive to improve one’s avatar, which will enable you to challenge tougher missions. Beefing up your character is accomplished through weapon upgrades and by forging new gear out of the materials scavenged from defeated foes. Spells can also be enhanced with new traits by using the game’s novel mutation system. More powerful magic and flashier armour aren’t the only things that can aid you in combat however. During a skirmish you can also tap the gem situated on the bottom screen to activate trance mode. This nifty feature can be used to temporarily transform you into a Final Fantasy hero. The roster of guises you can assume include Cloud, Lightning and um… Vaan. What the deuce? No one likes that guy. Can’t we have the bunny girl from FF12 instead?

VERDICT

My rating for Final Fantasy Explorers is four stars. That’s an impressive score when you consider that I have yet to dabble with the game’s multiplayer functions. From what I hear the online play is a lot of fun, even if coordinating strategy is difficult due to the title’s limited communication options (much like North Korea, Nintendo disapproves of people expressing themselves.) Antisocial gits, such as myself, can still enjoy soloing Explorers thanks to the inclusion of AI controlled monster companions. Teaming up with Tonberries, ostriches, humanoid cacti and serpentine ladies was a neat touch – although the minions in question are a bit dim when it comes to navigating narrow corridors or avoiding damage from the end of level Eidolon guardians.

Visually the game isn’t on par with other FF releases. Due to the frame rate dips, which occur in areas containing multiple enemies, I can however understand why Square opted for a less intensive graphical art style. If you seek a Monster Hunter experience, minus the frustratingly hardcore elements synonymous with that series, then Final Fantasy Explorers is the game for you. Despite not crafting optimal equipment I had little trouble besting the campaign within fifteen hours. Anyone who desires trickier battles need not fret though, as there is plenty of post-game content to tackle once the end credits roll. Final Fantasy Explorers may be too simplistic for Monster Hunter veterans and the feeble storyline will disappoint some RPG fanatics, but for the most part I enjoyed it. One could say that I had a ton-berry good time playing this game.

 

Review of Nyan Koi

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They say that sex sells, but that statement is blatantly untrue. My coverage of fan service shows has failed to bolster The Otaku Judge’s modest readership, so I have decided to change tact. Starting with today’s review of Nyan Koi my posts will focus extensively on cats, because everyone knows that when it comes to web site hits adorable felines dominate the Internet. For those of you unacquainted with the franchise, Nyan Koi is a twelve-episode anime series based on Sato Fujiwara’s manga. The show is animated by AIC (makers of Bamboo Blade) and has been brought over to the British Isles by MVM Entertainment.

OVERVIEW

One thing I have learnt from watching the deceptively titled Hentai Prince is that defacing stone idols is seldom a good idea. It’s a lesson that high school student Jyunpei Kousaka knows all too well, after he inadvertently decapitates the kitty statue guarding a local shrine. As punishment for his act of vandalism Jyunpei is jinxed and given the ability to commune with cats. In order to lift the curse Mr Kousaka has to help one hundred moggies with whatever personal problems they may have. Failing to perform this task within a timely manner carries the penalty of getting transformed into a cat – something that Jyunpei would rather avoid given that he is deathly allergic to fish eating pets.

After reading that synopsis one might assume that Nyan Koi shares similarities with Re-Kan (the key difference being that instead of aiding poltergeists, the protagonist performs good deeds for animals.) Lamentably however the cat subplot has to compete for screen time with pussy of another kind – namely a harem of girls. Out of the bevy of beauties in his life, classroom sweetheart Kaede Mizuno is the gal that Jyunpei is most enamoured with. The two share some romantic chemistry, but any hopes for an intimate relationship are usually scuppered by sudden interruptions – be they cat tending commitments or the unwanted attentions of Kanako Sumiyoshi (Jyunpei’s busty childhood friend.)

VERDICT

You’d think that curses, loquacious cats and a love triangle would provide sufficient storytelling material for a series whose run only spans a dozen episodes, but evidently not. In addition to all of the above Sato Fujiwara’s imagination gives us a temple priest who frequents cabaret clubs, the unfeminine daughter of a mob boss and a postal carrier who struggles to make deliveries due to her terrible sense of direction. If that oddball group of characters doesn’t satisfy your zaniness quota fear not, because the cast list also includes twin magical girls! One can only speculate what substances Nyan Koi’s author consumed when coming up with these ideas. I suspect that the manga is presently on hiatus because the writer is still nursing a massive hangover.

My rating for Nyan Koi is three stars. Due to the run of the mill visuals and a script brimming with cliché, I would categorize this series as a “disposable” comedy. Your average viewer will unwrap the box, marathon the three hundred minutes of hilarious gags and then toss the case onto their DVD shelf (where it shall stay, unlikely to ever be re-watched.) On the plus side the harem antics didn’t annoy me like they do in other shows, although it is a pity that they diluted the novel idea of a cat good samaritan. Overall the show was fun albeit unmemorable. I liked the funny slapstick and the mild eye candy provided by Kanako’s bouncy bosom. Oh wait, let me rephrase that because I no longer peddle smut. What I meant to say is that I liked the funny slapstick and all the clips of adorable cats doing amusing things. Yes, that should appease the kitty lovers. Time to sit back and watch this review attract over sixty million views.