Review of Root Letter

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Back during my middle school days I used to have a foreign pen pal. She ceased writing to me once I sent her the postal stamps from my country that she desired for her collection. Ouch, I felt so used. Unable to trust people ever again I retreated to the world of video games, hiding away from human contact in my bedroom. That torrid tale explains why I am a hermit who spends his free time reading visual novels. Call me overly sensitive if you must, but the past is too painful for my fragile heart to bear. Anyways, enough with the sob stories let us move on and review another fine PlayStation Vita release. Oh, this one looks good. Root Letter from Kadokawa Games and published in the west by PQube. According to the synopsis the game deals with a chap who is searching for his missing pen pal…. pen pal?!? Nooooo. Ingrid why did you abandon me? Didn’t you like my stamps? Waaaah!

OVERVIEW

Root Letter is a mystery visual novel starring a bloke named Takayuki. The game begins with our protagonist partaking in a spot of spring-cleaning. Whilst sorting through old correspondences from former pen pal Aya Fumino he stumbles across an unopened letter. Curious, he opens the note only to discover a written confession from Aya were she remorsefully admits to committing murder. What would you do after making such a morbid discovery? Dismiss the message as a childish prank? Report the matter to the police? Well you could, but that wouldn’t make for a very interesting video game would it? Takayuki doesn’t want to star in a game that is duller than Desert Bus so he travels to Aya’s hometown of Matsue in search of answers. When he arrives Takayuki learns from locals that Aya perished twenty-five years ago. Huh? That can’t be right. Since when do the deceased send out snail mail?

Channelling his inner Fox Mulder, Takayuki sets off in search of clues to solve the pen pal conundrum. Is there a logical explanation or could supernatural forces really be at work? The investigation won’t be easy though, as the townsfolk all deny knowing Aya. His only lead are the friends mentioned in Aya’s correspondence. Unfortunately for Takayuki he doesn’t know the true monikers of Aya’s chums because her letters only mention their nicknames. Locating the fabled Four-Eyes, Snappy, Shorty, Monkey, Bestie, Bitch and Fatty is akin to finding a needle in a haystack. Wait a minute. Bitch? Fatty? Those nicknames are rather disparaging. Perhaps the aforementioned friends killed Aya after being insulted one too many times. No one likes being called obese or a female dog. To be honest I have committed homicide for much less.

VERDICT

My rating for Root Letter is three and a half stars. The game starts slow, but after the first chapter I got hooked in hunting down Aya’s childhood acquaintances. Root Letter isn’t the best-written visual novel on Sony’s handheld, but I still enjoyed its nice soundtrack and anime rendition of Shimane Prefecture’s picturesque tourist sites. Unlike some other visual novels there is a fair bit of interactivity in Root Letter. To advance the narrative players will have to use a magnifying glass to check locations for clues. Phoenix Wright fans will be happy to hear that the game contains some interrogation sequences too. During these segments Takayuki interviews suspects by asking questions and uses the evidence he has previously procured to challenge their testimony. If your detective skills match those of Inspector Clouseau worry not because hints are readily available by selecting the “think” command from the in-game menu.

Overall I had a grand time playing through Root Letter. The original ending I got wasn’t great, but with a total of five finales to unlock most readers should find a conclusion they enjoy. Outcomes range from romantic to downright silliness involving extra terrestrials (looks like the writers may have been fans of Silent Hill.) After playing Root Letter my faith in pen pals has been rejuvenated. Perhaps the time has come for me to be less anti-social and open up to others? Coincidently I received an email from a Russian lady the other day expressing the desire to become friends. Maybe she could become my new pen pal? Unlike that hussy Ingrid she doesn’t expect me to furnish her with stamps. All she requests is that I provide her with my bank details and social security number. What could possibly go wrong?

Review of Shantae: Half-Genie Hero

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My faith in Kickstarter is restored! After the disappointment that was Mighty No. 9, Shantae: Half-Genie Hero makes our wishes come true – by proving it is possible to crowd fund a quality 2D platformer. How ironic that a game based on the iconic Megaman should flop, whilst a title with a modest cult following shows Keiji Inafune how it is done. Shantae the mystical belly dancer, who is for all intents and purposes WayForward’s mascot, has been around since 2002. You may not have heard of the character though, as her debut game appeared on the Gameboy Colour back when the handheld was on its last legs. Timing can make or break a release… just ask Gearbox how releasing Battleborn in the same month as Overwatch turned out! Hopefully Half-Genie Hero will give Shantae more exposure, because from what I hear all her games are excellent.

OVERVIEW

Shantae: Half-Genie Hero sees the titular Djinn/Human hybrid return once again to protect the citizens of Scuttle Town from pirate harassment. In this soft reboot of the franchise Shantae travels across the land procuring materials that her uncle requires to assemble a giant dynamo, which can supposedly repel any attacker who may decide to target the settlement. Whilst on the scavenger hunt for components Shantae is periodically interrupted by a rogue’s gallery of villains (whose nefarious schemes include afflicting the populace with amnesia and fabricating counterfeit mermaids.) Hmm, I had a feeling that mermaid was a fake… there was something “fishy” about her.

Unlike previous titles, Half-Genie Hero is broken up into levels rather than being set in one massive Metroidvania style world. This doesn’t mean the need to explore has been abandoned though. Revisiting completed stages is mandatory, as each area houses secrets that can only be reached once Shantae has progressed far enough in the story to unlock new transformations. In her default form Shantae can whip enemies into submission with her lengthy locks and she can also cast a range of magical spells. Her humanoid body cannot overcome every obstacle though, which is where the ability to turn into critters comes in handy. As a crab for example Shantae can travel underwater, as an elephant she can use her bulk to smash through blocks and morphing into a spider allows her to traverse ceilings (spooking any Arachnophobic gamers in the process.)

VERDICT

My rating for Shantae: Half-Genie Hero is four-stars. If you grew up enjoying 2D platformers I can highly recommend this game. The levels are well designed, the bosses are fun to battle and the soundtrack is top notch. Visually Half-Genie Hero must go down as the finest looking Shantae adventure to date. The pixel graphics found in earlier instalments have been replaced with 3D environments that are populated with gorgeously drawn two-dimensional sprites. High definition Shantae is sure to be a hit with toonophiles, especially during the loading screen were she wiggles her hips. Gameplay wise Half-Genie Hero is one of the better platformers I have played in recent times. Breaking up the game into bite-sized levels may be controversial for series fans but it worked for me, as my sense of direction is terrible (so I often get lost in expansive Metroidvania worlds.)

The only thing that I disliked about Half-Genie Hero would have to be the final level, were the developers decided to ratchet up the difficulty by sprinkling the location with instant death pitfalls and spikes. Other than that I have no complaints. Some more levels would have been nice, as I completed the story in just five hours, but I accept the game’s duration is ultimately constrained by the amount of Kickstarter revenue WayForward was able to attract. All that said I have plenty of trophies yet to earn and a new DLC character is on the horizon, so I still have a few more hours of entertainment waiting to keep me occupied. On a budget of $776k WayForward Technologies has done an exceptional job. Makes you wonder were all the money ($3 million) went in the woeful Mighty No. 9. If Shantae is a genie then shyster Keiji Inafune must be Jafar.

Review of Warcraft: The Beginning

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The quest to deliver a hit video game movie has eluded studios for many years. Not even a party of epically geared adventurers could complete such a quest… much less hack filmmaker Uwe Boll. MMORPG maestro Blizzard Entertainment has however decided to give the challenge a shot. Perhaps their fantasy tale can do for video games what Spider-Man did for comic books? Their talent for gorgeous cut scenes does seem to indicate that they can craft convincing CG effects and even more promising is the recruitment of Duncan Jones behind the camera. He is an excellent director, as anyone who has watched Moon or Source Code will attest to.

OVERVIEW

Based on the popular RTS and MMO games, Warcraft: The Beginning brings the conflict between Orcs and Humans over from PC monitors to the cinematic big screen. The movie begins on the dying world of Draenor, which the Orcs call home. In order to escape certain extinction, Orc warlock Gul’dan uses his unholy Fel Magic to open up a portal that leads to the human kingdom of Azeroth. He instructs his brutish minions to cross the gateway, where they begin claiming the human territory for their own. Unable to convince the neighbouring dwarves and elves to aid them with defence, Azeroth’s troops struggle in fending off the physically stronger invaders. Why can’t they just f-orc off and leave us in peace?

Spearheading the protection of Azeroth’s borders is knight champion Sir Anduin Lothar (played by Vikings actor Travis Fimmel) and Medivh the wizardly Guardian of Tirisfal (Ben Foster sporting a Jesus like beard.) Just like the video game it is based off, Warcraft isn’t a simple good versus evil storyline. Both sides in the conflict have their fair share of compassionate characters. It could be argued in fact that CG horde chieftain Durotan is ironically more fleshed out than many of his live action co-stars. Presented as a loving father and honourable leader, Durotan offers to help Lothar fight against his own kind when it becomes apparent that Gul’dan’s life sapping sorcery could be the cause of his homeland’s demise.

VERDICT

My rating for Warcraft: The Beginning is a three out of five. It’s one of the better video game movies I have seen, even if that isn’t saying much because the competition in that genre is so weak. Despite the lengthy two hour running time I was never bored, as interesting plot and emotional character moments were weaved in between the action packed scenes featuring armour clad swordsmen and bulky brutes from another dimension. The movie isn’t perfect, but all things considered I think Duncan Jones did a good job handling a film of this scale. Quite an accomplishment given that two of Jones’ relatives were afflicted with cancer during the filming process and how he had to contend with Blizzard’s interference, which had previously dissuaded Sam Raimi from helming the movie.

One thing I disliked about Warcraft was how CG heavy it was. Apart from the human cast, most of the environments and characters are computer generated. Couldn’t the elves and dwarves at least be actors in makeup? Paula Patton for example looked convincing as an Orc half-breed with just the use of green skin paint and prosthetic tusks. Some more humour would have been nice too, as World of Warcraft is a funny MMO. The movie treats itself too seriously, despite some moments of levity by bumbling sorcerer Khadgar. All that said, I think the movie is fine. I wouldn’t mind watching a sequel, although a follow up may be unlikely due to the flick’s poor US box office earnings. Thankfully anyone who liked Warcraft has the option of learning what happens next by reading the novels and playing the games. Keep away from World of Warcraft though. As a former addict, I must warn how that game can take over your life!

Review of Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV

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Will Kingsglaive prove to be third time lucky for Square? When it comes to CG films the makers of Final Fantasy don’t exactly have a great track record. The Spirits Within all but bankrupted the company, forcing them to merge with rivals Enix, whilst Advent Children failed to impress as a movie – even if it was packed with cool FF7 fan service. Sadly I am sorry to report that Kingsglaive continues the underwhelming trend. This prologue to Final Fantasy XV feels like an extended cut scene, which would put Hideo Kojima’s Metal Gear interludes to shame, as it clocks in shy of two hours. Visually the whole thing is spectacular, and at times could be mistaken for a live action flick, but when it comes to characters/story the narrative’s lack of substance lets the stellar production values down.

OVERVIEW

Apart from celebrity deaths, 2016 will be remembered as the year when some protracted video game projects finally completed their development cycles. Not only has The Last Guardian seen the light of day, but also Final Fantasy XV has been released after a decade in the making. To commemorate this joyous event CGI animated movie Kingsglaive was produced, which will introduce players to the world of Eos prior to them tackling Square’s much-anticipated RPG. Kingsglaive chronicles the war between the technologically advanced kingdom of Niflheim and the magically adept nation of Lucis. After many years of conflict Niflheim proposes a truce, to cease the hostilities, but can they be trusted? Probably not – their ruler does resemble Saruman after all.

Kingsglaive is the name of the elite group who guard Lucis from invasion. Their troops are enhanced with magical power bestowed upon them by monarch King Regis, who is voiced by Sean “always dies” Bean. One of the team’s cooler abilities allows them to instantly teleport to wherever their hurled daggers land, akin to Sombra’s (Overwatch) translocation grenade. The squad’s leader is a heroic chap named Nyx, who is the type of protagonist that willingly flaunts orders to protect those he cares about. When the Chocobo poop hits the fan, due to the above-mentioned treaty crumbling, it falls upon Nyx to rescue Final Fantasy XV love interest Princess Lunafreya from incarceration and prevent the enchanted ring she carries from falling into Niflheim’s clutches.

VERDICT

My rating for Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV is a two out of five. The movie has been well received in some circles, but for me it was all style and no substance. State of the art special effects and an all-star voice cast, which includes the likes of Lena Headey and Aaron Paul, cannot mask the script’s shortcomings. I almost walked away from the film, around the thirty-minute mark, due to the messy storytelling and dull politics that reminded me of Final Fantasy 12’s plot (aside from the bunny girl and sky pirate that game sucks.) Thankfully things improve once the action kicks off. That said, like a Michael Bay Transformers movie the fireworks, which were initially impressive, overstay there welcome and begin to feel tiresome after the onscreen battles wage on for over an hour.

Corny dialogue and some questionable character motivations, which I am unable to delve into due to spoilers, are also a factor in my low score. If you can turn off your brain, and bask in the flashy spectacle of it all, Kingsglaive may however be more to your liking. Fans of the game might also rate Kingsglaive higher than me, as it fleshes out the Eos universe. At the very least Final Fantasy diehards will enjoy the brief appearance of franchise creatures such as Ultros and Diamond Weapon. Did watching the movie make me want to splash out on the console game? Not really. It did make me want to buy an Audi though. With so much automobile product placement financing the film it’s safe to assume that this feature won’t drain the Square coffers like previous animated DVDs have.

Batman: The Telltale Series Review

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Always be yourself, unless you can be Batman. Then always be Batman. Well now you can be – thanks to interactive storytellers Telltale Games who have just finished releasing their latest five-part episodic adventure, which puts players in the shoes of DC Comics’ Caped Crusader. Set a few years after the Dark Knight first made his crime fighting debut, Batman: The Telltale Series sees billionaire Bruce Wayne tackle Gotham City’s underworld plague on two fronts. During the day he uses his financial clout to fund mayoral candidate Harvey Dent’s campaign against corrupt politician Hamilton Hill, whilst at night he dons the pointy-eared cowl to combat mobsters and a feline costumed thief who has a thing for whips. Meow.

OVERVIEW

If you are suffering from Batman fatigue, after completing Rocksteady’s Arkham trilogy, Telltale’s release could well reinvigorate your passion for the character. The narrative will appeal to graphic novel enthusiasts and best of all there isn’t a tedious Batmobile level in sight! Playing through each instalment is unlike any other Batman videogame, as time is divided equally between controlling Bruce Wayne and his cape wearing alter ego. There are even occasions were you are given the choice of tackling problems through diplomacy as Wayne or intimidation as Batman. Based on this offering I think Telltale would do a swell job handling a Spider-Man game. Just like Peter Parker in the Marvel comics, Telltale’s version of Bruce Wayne has to juggle public life with vigilante commitments… often sacrificing personal happiness to protect a populace that detests him.

What’s also refreshing about Batman: The Telltale Series is that Joker isn’t the chief antagonist, although he does make a brief cameo in the later episodes. Batman’s rival in this tale are a faction known as the Children of Arkham, who much like the League of Shadows from the Nolan flicks, are dedicated to ridding Gotham City Hall from corruption via some rather extreme means. One of the group’s leaders is Bruce Wayne’s childhood pal Oswald Cobblepot, aka the Penguin. Instead of being a sharply dressed chap, who owns a collection of high-tech brollies, this iteration of the villain sports a Constantine like brown trench coat. Don’t treat him lightly because, just like the animated birds of Madagascar, Penguin excels at executing elaborate schemes.

VERDICT

My rating for Batman: The Telltale Series is four and a half stars. When compared to other titles from the Telltale library, Batman is right up there with stuff like Tales from the Borderlands. I can’t however award it a perfect score, as my enjoyment was hampered by numerous technical glitches. Aside from frame rate dips there was a humorous sequence were Batman battled a pair of floating eyes, because his opponent’s character model failed to render properly. Less funny was a bug that caused my save file to skip a scene, denying me a platinum trophy. My console also froze on two separate occasions. Bah, this game crashes more than a woman driver. Huh, what that isn’t funny? Sorry, I thought sexist jokes were acceptable now that Trump is in the White House.

Providing that you can forgive the aforementioned bugs, Batman: The Telltale Series is worth picking up for the storyline alone. Gameplay might be minimal, but I really dig how the mouldable plot changes depending on the dialogue choices you make. The action is visually striking although be aware that it’s all driven by easy to perform quick time events, which may not be to everyone’s taste. I also liked the sections were Batman surveys a crime scene and extrapolates what occurred by linking pieces of evidence together. The clue-chaining sections may lack the complexity of puzzles found in older Telltale games, but they are nice mechanic to include for a game starring the world’s greatest detective. No, not Sherlock Holmes – I was referring to Batman. He is second to none when it comes to smarts thanks to his potassium rich diet. Ba na na na na na na Batman!

Review of Suicide Squad

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What should mankind do if a Superman level threat were ever to attack the United States? Amanda Waller (who appears to be on the Weight Watchers plan) proposes fighting fire with fire, by assembling a team of villainous meta-human protectors. One quick search later and the titular Suicide Squad are formed, made up of the meanest inmates presently serving time. The line-up includes sniper Deadshot, pyro-kinesis master El Diablo, amphibian strongman Killer Croc, obnoxious Australian Captain Boomerang, soul-sapping sword wielder Katana and the Joker’s insane love interest Harley Quinn. How a crazy chick swinging a baseball bat is supposed to counter someone like Doomsday is anyone’s guess, but whatever.

OVERVIEW

On their inaugural mission the Suicide Squad are tasked with taking down Enchantress, a mighty witch who is rather miffed that humanity no longer worships her as a god. The story is pretty straightforward. Suicide Squad go on a walk, Suicide Squad beat up lackeys, Suicide Squad continue to walk, Suicide Squad thrash some more henchmen, Suicide Squad walk some more and finally the Suicide Squad battle the final boss. The walk/fight cycle reminds me a little of Lord of the Rings, but the Fellowship get a pass from me because their ambling did at least treat us to some beautiful cinematography of New Zealand’s landscapes. On the other hand all you’ll see in this Warner Bros blockbuster are grimy streets and poorly lit alleyways.

Like many DC movies Suicide Squad is a bit of a mixed bag. The early scenes, which introduce us to the characters, are fun to watch and the banter between Waller’s team of misfits is witty. I liked how a sequence near the end of the film, were the group chill out at a bar, helped humanize what is essentially a band of despicable killers. The action choreography wasn’t to my liking however. Deadshot simply shoots guys – making me wonder why he is considered to be more valuable than a troop of soldiers. Captain Boomerang seems to favour melee combat for some reason, despite being named after a ranged weapon. El Diablo has the flashiest power, but for a good portion of the movie he refuses to set enemies ablaze. Waller should “fire” his pacifist ass from the team.

VERDICT

My rating for Suicide Squad is two and a half stars. When compared to other live action movies from the DC comics stable it is better than Green Lantern but worse than Man of Steel. Is David Ayer’s script to blame or is studio interference at fault? Who knows. Either way the movie didn’t click with me. I especially disliked Jared Leto’s take on the Joker. Just like Lex Luthor in Batman v Superman, the suspect casting did not work out. In this film the clown prince of crime is portrayed as a mob boss who has a thing for excessive makeup and garish suits. Leto couldn’t even deliver a convincing laugh, making me wonder how he got past the audition process. Thank goodness then that the Joker’s screen time is limited to a paltry fifteen minutes.

On the flip side Margot Robbie was great as Harley Quinn. Her quips stole the show, even if her performance doesn’t explain why Harley is so infatuated with Joker. Robbie eclipsed co-star Will Smith’s mediocre interpretation of Deadshot – the paid assassin who loves his daughter and refuses to kill children or women (um maybe someone should tell him the gender of Enchantress.) Overall I think Suicide Squad would have been more to my liking had I not recently watched Batman: Assault on Arkham. Said animated feature stars the same anti-hero team but manages to deliver a smarter storyline, funnier comedy and better action in the space of just seventy-five minutes. Oh how I wish Suicide Squad was that concise, because I found myself constantly glancing at my watch during its two-hour duration. After another sub-par release it now falls on Wonder Woman to save DC’s movie universe from the doldrums.

The Perfect Insider Review

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Talk about a wasted trip. University professor Sohei Saikawa and his teenage student Moe Nishinosono travelled all the way to a remote island lab for nothing. The purpose of their journey was to meet up with programming prodigy Shiki Magata, but upon reaching their destination the pair soon discover that the female coder has been brutally murdered. Shiki’s dismembered corpse was found sitting atop a trolley with all her limbs missing. Yuck, I hope you weren’t eating dinner whilst reading this! Anyways… with the facility’s communication system on the fritz, preventing anyone from calling the police, it falls on brainy Sohei to deduce the identity of the culprit before they are able to strike again.

OVERVIEW

Also known as Subete ga F ni Naru, The Perfect Insider is an anime series based on the nineties novel penned by Hiroshi Mori. The story revolves around a locked room mystery that Sohei has the unenviable task of solving. Who, from the research laboratory’s small workforce, committed the crime and how exactly did they accomplish the feat without being detected? Shiki Magata was an eccentric recluse who hadn’t left her bedroom or met any visitors in years (wow, and here I was thinking that I was the most anti-social person on Earth.) Dr Magata’s abode is guarded by twenty-four hour surveillance and a sturdy door, which only her palm print can unlock. How could anyone possibly manage to breach those safeguards?

Super sleuth Sohei Saikawa reminds me a little of Aldnoah Zero’s Inaho Kaizuka. The manner in which he overcomes adversity by using coolheaded logic is impressive, but his lack of charisma makes him a dull protagonist. In terms of personality Sohei’s only distinct traits would have to be his phobia of eye drops and a questionable taste in t-shirts. Poor fashion sense hasn’t however prevented him from catching the eye of Moe. Miss Nishinosono, who is the Watson to Sohei’s Sherlock, has an unrequited crush on her tutor. She is also the heir to a vast fortune and no slouch in the IQ department. When it comes to math she can resolve complex equations, in her head, faster than I can input the formula into a calculator.

VERDICT

My rating for The Perfect Insider is a four out of five. What can I say? As a fan of Danganronpa I am a sucker for a good whodunit. In my opinion the show’s length is perfect. Eleven episodes means that the series doesn’t overstay its welcome, whilst still having sufficient time to adequately cover the full investigation and flesh out the cast’s backstories. Your opinion may differ however if you watch anime purely for the visual spectacle. Be forewarned that The Perfect Insider’s script is heavy on dialogue. Viewers expecting action may find the narrative to be a ponderous slog. The psychological discussions worked for me though, and to their credit A-1 Pictures did try to spice up the chatter with some dream like Sensory Deprivation Tank sequences.

Overall I thought that The Perfect Insider’s mystery was clever and well constructed. The finale surprised me, even if other viewers claim that they managed to suss out the killer’s identity around the show’s midway point. My only real complaint with the series would have to be the uninteresting lead. Thankfully the supporting cast are there to pick up the slack. Shiki Magata in particular is a very intriguing character. It’s a shame then that her deceased status limits the victim to mostly flashback scenes. Aside from being an accomplished computer wiz Shiki’s other “accomplishments” include juggling multiple personalities, committing parenticide and losing her virginity to her uncle. Blimey, Christmas time at the Magata household must be rather awkward.