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Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica

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So, I just watched Madoka.

Part of last year's Winter line-up, Mahou Shoujo Madoka★Magica is an original magical girl show from SHAFT. Or rather, it's a show about magical girls. That is to say, the focus isn't on young girls defeating the monster of the week with their powers, but on the characters themselves.

That isn't to say Madoka doesn't carry many of the trademarks expected of the genre. There's still supernatural foes to take down, a pet-like companion, and fanciful transformation sequences. Though while it has the ingredients of a magical girl show, Madoka doesn't follow the recipe laid down by its predecessors. It takes aspects characteristic of the genre and distorts them, perverts them even. What results is a show that toys with your expectations in a refreshing and brilliantly executed manner.

The premise of the show is simple: Madoka, a young and cheerful girl without a single worry, gets introduced into the world of magical girls. On her journey, Madoka is accompanied by a strong cast of likable characters: the charismatic and confident Mami, cheerful best friend Sayaka, headstrong Kyoko, and the strong and mysterious Homura. Like other aspects of the show, the characters embody archetypes we've seen elsewhere, but as with the rest of Madoka, the magic is in the execution. A character like Mami can drop rifles from her skirt in the most unreal of fashions, but the emotions she conveys come across as genuinely authentic. This is thanks in part to the show's great writing and tight pacing. Not a moment is wasted in Madoka, with each scene carrying a deeper meaning relevant to either the characters or the overarching plot. The show is commendable for doing an excellent job of intertwining character development with action that always keeps the story moving forward. And where the story goes is a spiral of twists and turns that, if you're like me, will have you starting the next episode just as the previous finishes. Though the show isn't dependent on these plot twists, I'll say no more as I think spoiling it will hamper the experience for those yet to watch.

Aside from the story, Madoka also excels in the audiovisual department - this is SHAFT at their best. You'll get your usual head tilts and unusual perspectives, but also wonderfully choreographed battles occurring against surreal backdrops. The stages set for these fights are unique to say the least, and suitably unnerving in their presentation. On the opposite end, the character designs are simple and cute. Yet, I don't feel they clash with the rest of the show's art direction - on the contrary, I find them oddly complimentary. The animation, even outside of the action, is handled well. The way shots are framed, and the usual SHAFT method of directing, make even talking heads interesting to watch. All of this is accompanied by a soundtrack that can shift from energetically dramatic to foreboding to poignant whenever necessary. I also liked the ED theme by Kalafina, and thought it worked well as an insert song.

Needless to say, I really enjoyed Madoka. If you're into anime, give it a shot. Or hell, even if you're not.

A Week With Vita

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I thought what I'd do was, I'd make a post about the Vita. I've had it just shy of a week now, so I've a pretty good grasp of the device at this point.


The short of it is the Vita's one hell of a device. The system isn't perfect, as I consider the omission of any sort of internal storage a rather big misstep, but what it does, it does pretty damn well. The OLED screen is gorgeous for starters - crisp and clean, and makes colors pop in all the right ways. I mean, look:

Old and Busted vs. New Hotness

Controls are another area where the Vita shines. I haven't quite wrapped my head around the gyro feature (which is just as well, since I don't really care about it), but I'm pleased with the other control inputs. The d-pad held up well in the fighting game I tried (Fate/Unlimited Codes...not the best, but it's all I've got), the face buttons survived the beating DJ Max gives, and the touchscreens have proven responsive and dependable in my time with them. Then of course, there's the second analog stick which I pretty much consider a necessity for 3D games. Such games worked on the PSP, but in the same way eating steak with just a fork works. You can still eat it, but you're better off picking up a knife as well, and I'm glad Sony did so to speak.

Another thing I quite like about the Vita is the OS. What I like most about it is the multitasking, as shown in the above screenshot (being able to take screenshots is another neat feature, I should add). Even with a game running, the Vita's able to have several apps running in the background, and can switch between them without breaking a sweat. Sure, it's not exactly a jaw-dropping feature, but it is user-friendly, an ideology that seems to extend throughout the rest of the OS as well. I won't go more into it, as it's a lot to cover, so I'll just say I approve of the OS. It's flexible in how it's used, and quick at doing it, which is all I really want.


The above stuff is nice and all, but games are what ultimately decide a system's worth. I only currently own one Vita game though, so most of my playtime has gone to PSP titles. Support issues aside, I'm more than satisfied with how the Vita handles PSP games. Since the Vita's resolution is conveniently exactly double that of the PSP, games scale very nicely, and as a result, look great. The Vita's inclusion of a second stick also eliminates control issues that previously existed in titles like Dissidia 012. And I'd have to do a comparison to say for certain, but load times feel quicker on the Vita as well.

But back to Vita games, the one title I currently own is Super Stardust Delta. Basically, if you've any interest in twin-stick shooters, you should own this game. You control a ship and you blow up asteroids and stuff with action resulting in a flurry of particles, lights, and explosions that fuсk and make more particles, lights, and explosions. Though I could do without the gimmicky minigames, the core gameplay of SSD is frantic action that's just plain fun to play and looks great while doing it.

Pictured: Gravity Rush

While I only have one game, that's more due to lack of funds than lack of interest. Tastes will vary, but I think the Vita has a strong start out the gate with titles like Lumines, Wipeout, and Uncharted, and a good first year ahead with titles like Gravity Rush, DJ Max Technika, and Zero Escape: Virtue's Last Reward.

Only time will tell where the Vita ends up, but for now, I'm glad I picked one up.

Fall Anime 2011

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Fall is here, but more importantly, new anime is here! Finally got around to watching the first episodes of series that caught my eye (well, except for Guilty Crown, but that hasn't started yet), and so far we're off to a good start. Definitely an adaptation-heavy season, but I'm not complaining. Anyways, let's get to it!


Mirai Nikki

Based on a manga, Mirai Nikki focuses on a social recluse who discovers his imaginary friends are more than just delusions of his own creation. One of them, in fact, is the god of time and space, Deus Ex Machina. And for reasons unknown, Deus has made the MC's cellphone capable of foreseeing the future in the form of text-based diaries, an awesome power the protag wastes no time in exploiting for his own gain. The problem is about a dozen other individuals have the same special cells and everyone must kill eachother in a battle royale, with Deus' seat as ruler over time and space waiting at the finish.

It's an interesting concept for sure, and the show's execution was definitely entertaining. Wonky CGI aside, didn't notice any glaring flaws, though I haven't read the manga for comparison. Protag is your typical MC; since it's still the first episode I'll give him time. Right now, his yandere waifu is a much better character, but don't we all love crazy girls? Anyway, a solid watch, and good enough to make me want to see what happens next. I'd recommend it.


Boku wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai

At first glance Bokutomo looks like generic harems***, BUT IT'S NOT. Instead, it's a comedy about socially awkward high-schoolers coming together in a club with the goal of making friends. This first episode gets the club started and introduces us to the show's three main characters; Kodaka, a transfer student branded as a delinquent; Yozora, a loner with an imaginary friend; and Sena, an arrogant beauty with a following of male fans, but no actual friends.

It's your standard set-up episode, and doesn't stray far from the source material. As far as visuals go, you can tell they have a nice budget, but I wish they had gone with the styIe in the manga over the DenpaOnna styIe of the light novels. That's just a matter of preference though. What I actually take issue with is the sexualization of the female cast. They need to sell blu-rays, I get it, but the camera focusing in on Sena's chest just seems misplaced in the show. At the very least, they haven't done any random pantyshots yet. In the end though, it's a solid adaptation, and I know more laughs are coming from having read the manga (this week's MonHun episode should be great) so I'll stick with it.


Persona 4: The Animation

Persona 4: The Animation is the name, and that's exactly what the show is delivering: the game, but animated. Fans won't find anything new, but if you're like me, you'll enjoy seeing the game in a new medium. Judging by this first episode, it's a faithful adaptation, even going so far as to include the game's day transition screens. While that sounds good, the show kinda felt like it was just going through the motions, if that makes sense. It's also fast-paced, which may change in later episodes, but there's a lot of ground to cover even for a two-cour series. And that's why, for now, this one's just for the fans. The show's strict adherence to the source material isn't going to convert anyone to P4 love, and the fast-pacing means newcomers are better off playing the game.


Fate/zero

Prequel to Fate/stay Night, Fate/zero occurs ten years prior and details the Holy Grail War that took place then. If you're unfamiliar with the franchise, the Holy Grail War is a battle royale for the grail itself involving seven magi called Masters and their Servants, summoned heroes from across time. The first episode introduces us to most of the Masters, and details some of their motivations.

Watching the first episode confirmed ufotable was the right studio for the job. Fate/zero looks great and sounds great - if you've watched Kara no Kyoukai then you know what to expect. Though it's a dialogue-heavy start, I found it all interesting. I know how the war is going to end since I played the VN of F/SN, but I'm still curious to see how the new characters will play out their roles. Going forward with high hopes on this one, currently the stand-out show of the season.


If you're reading, what are you watching?

Reaper, Reaper

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Like I mentioned in my last blog ( thanks for the replies by the way, my PS3 would have appreciated it ;_; ), I've gone after my Wii backlog and I've now knocked off three games from my list: No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle, Epic Mickey, and The Sky Crawlers: Innocent Aces.


The original No More Heroes is my favorite Wii game so when the sequel was announced, I was naturally ecstatic. Having now seen the ending credits roll for Desperate Struggle, I can't help but feel...disappointed in the game. On paper, Desperate Struggle is the better game (and it is by all means a great one), but it's a lesser experience compared to the original No More Heroes.

No More Heroes 2 polishes up the gameplay from the original while doing away with some of the tedium, most notably by removing the overworld in its entirety. Also of note is the removal of fees for ranking fights (thereby removing the grind of the original), making it possible to jump from ranking fight to ranking fight without a penny to your name...which brings us to the main problem: the boss fights.

There are more ranking fights in Desperate Struggle, but as the old saying goes, more isn't always better. The way I see it, there are two components to a great boss fight: the boss, and the fight itself. Obvious, really, but while the game gets the fight part down most of the time, the characters themselves are lacking. You're pitted against a large cast of unique enemies, but you never get to know them like you did in the original. There are exceptions of course - Alice was handled particularily well - but overall the ranking fights in Desperate Struggle lack the build-up, the personality that made the fights in the original game so engaging. No More Heroes was excellent in the way it made you want to clash beamswords with your enemy; it's that special quality Desperate Struggle lacks.

Oh, and I feel I should mention the final boss fight just because it's f****** abysmal. I won't spoil it, but imagine teleportation attacks that are repeated repeatedly with the possibility of killing you in one hit. Hatehatehatehatehatehatehatehatehated it. Worst of all, the source of the bulls*** is a bland, uninteresting character, a farcry from Jeane and Mister Sir Henry Motherf*****. Bah.

But anyway, streamlining did work in favor of the sequel - putting the focus solely on the action is the right direction for the series. And the additions made were for the better. Combat is still as satisfying as ever and Travis' newfound ability to switch up weapons midfight is a welcome addition, even if I rarely used it. The introduction of two additional playable characters gave the game even more variety, though platforming with Shinobu really did blow hard. The story and characters are where the game falters, making Desperate Struggle the odd case of the better game, but the inferior experience.

The above image is not an accurate representation of Epic Mickey. The game is instead your standard 3D platformer with a unique twist on the Disney of old. Which isn't a bad thing, but the game does scream of wasted potential. The game is a love letter to the Disney cIassics - exploring the gameworld makes it clear the folks at Junction Point know their stuff. So when you actually get down to playing the game and see it for what it really is - a typical platformer that wouldn't be out of place in the 90's - you can't help but think of what could have been.

The game plays like any old platformer, but here, you're also given a brush with which you can erase and paint select parts of the world. It's simple and it works, a statement that can be applied to many parts of the game. Unfortunately, that's the problem. The game plays like nothing you haven't already seen and at times is just dull. The level design is lacking, combat is tedious, and the camera is horrible. There are also sidequests to complete, but they all suck. They're glorified fetchquests, and boring ones at that. A few quests differ (some have you rounding up bunnies around town for example), but they're not interesting either. And since certain quests actually affect the game's ending, you can't just ignore them if you're aiming for a specific playthrough.

Not all is bad in Epic Mickey - the presentation is great, though there are some missteps there as well. The art direction is good, but the visuals don't live up to the original vision of the game. Some would say this is due to the Wii's weak hardware, but I don't buy that. I really do think they could have done more with the graphics, so to me it just seems like they dropped the ball here. The lack of voice-acting is also very disappointing. Speaking to characters I know have voices and just getting silence in return breaks the immersion. Granted, there are very old characters so I understand why they went the route they did, but the lack of VAs still comes across as a big omission. On the positive though, I thought the 2D levels were handled very well. Okay, the gameplay is still lacking in the 2D sections, but they nailed the transformation of cIassic cartoons into playable levels. And the characters, while voiceless, were successfully brought to life. The story in the game doesn't ramp up until the final sections, but it's still a great tale of redemption and is entertaining to watch unfold.

Epic Mickey is seriously flawed, but I still see potential for a great game here. One we'll hopefully see come to fruition in a sequel.

The Sky Crawlers: Innocent Aces is a game based on a movie I haven't seen which I think is itself based on a novel I haven't read. If you're unfamiliar with the source material like me, fret not, this isn't a game about story. Innocent Aces is about fun arcade-styIed dogfights with unique and customizable planes.

The game plays out through missions making it perfect for short bursts of play. There's some variety in the game, from escort missions to recon to protecting a target, but they all eventually become about taking out your foes in the air. And that's okay, because dogfights in Innocent Aces are just plain fun. You can pick your plane, customize it to your liking, and then take to the skies to gun down your enemies without the action becoming repetitive.

Occasionally, an anime cutscene will play in-between missions to progress the story. The animation looks good, and the characters are voiced well, but the story isn't worth caring about. The plot is predictable and character motivations hardly make any sense no thanks to the ridiculous premise on which the story is set. Apparently, war is eliminated in the world of The Sky Crawlers, but corporations stage battle against eachother anyway to keep the people at peace, or something. Fortunately, the story doesn't intrude too often so you can keep pew-pewing in the air to your heart's delight without too much distraction.


Thanks for reading!

Good Night, Sweet Prince

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Earlier in the afternoon on this day - the 24th of April, 2011 - the dastardly yellow light of death (known as 'YLOD' in some circles) murdered my PS3, a young lad approaching only his fourth year of life. The world is now a darker place.

The PS3 clocked out while I was playing Mortal Kombat - good game, by the way. The story mode is surprising enjoyable; I really liked the seamless transitions they did from cutscene to matches. I wasn't entirely sold on the fighting system though. It's not bad, it's just not my cup of Guilty Gear brand tea. Mortal Kombat fans of old should be right at home at least.

But anyway, I think I'll just get a Slim, not that I have very many options. The hairdryer trick is but a temporary solution and one I've already attempted to no success. I could also open the system up and try to perform my own resurrective surgery - I've already opened the thing up to remove the Mortal Kombat disc from the claws of the PS3's dead corpse so I'd just have to go deeper. But who knows how long that would last, and I don't think fumbling through Youtube tutorials just so I can end up with a resurrected system with an uncertain lifespan is very much worth it. The same reason is why I'd rather not send it to Sony, an option which would require a lot more cash. Of course, I've already destroyed that 'do not remove' sticker in my quest to retrieve MK, so I don't think they'd even take it if I were to change my mind.

That leads us back to the Slim, which isn't without its drawbacks. Well, just the one drawback since PS2 BC is all I care about - still, a pretty major drawback. But alas, my current PS3 is knockin' on heaven's door as I type and it's not like I'm going to abandon PS3 gaming soooo Slim it is then. Since I think a pricedrop is likely at E3, I'll be waiting until then before picking up the system again - that's when most of the games I'm looking forward to come out anyway so it'll work out nicely I think.

A tip if you're reading this: go back-up your saves. I think I'm good for the most part, but I don't recall the last time I backed up my saves so I no doubt lost some stuff. Like Gran Turismo 5. Probably LittleBigPlanet 2. And Bayonetta (this makes the second time). Hrm. Not to mention trophies since PSN is down so I wasn't able to synch them. Well, oh well.

On the bright side, think I'll take this PS3-free time to knockout my Wii backlog. Huzzah!

Killzone, Anime, and El Shaddai - Oh my!

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This is Jammer, the token female.


So I rented Killzone 3. It was pretty typical of standard FPS fare - big, loud, and stupid - and like other flavor of the month titles, Killzone 3 features an entirely forgettable campaign. That said, the game was still an enjoyable, though short, ride.

Perhaps I've been playing too many PC games lately, but Killzone 3's visuals didn't impress me as much as I thought they would. That isn't to say the game looks bad - on the contrary, Killzone 3 is one of the best looking titles on consoles, but it doesn't carry with it a 'wow' factor like say, Uncharted 2. The reason for this I think lies with the art direction. While there were moments where the game really shines (the jungle and final level were my favorites), Killzone too often succumbs to the dull browns and greys that have become stereotypical in the FPS genre. To the game's credit, the eyecandy is delivered at a nice, steady framerate with no noticeable screentearing or other visual hiccups. There are a handful of times where the game stutters, though these brief moments of imperfection are only noticeable since the rest of the experience is so smooth.

The gameplay of Killzone 3 is simple, as expected. You're in a zone and you need to kill some dudes. The game funnels you from firefight to firefight by way of linear pathways, and while you might be rocking a jetpack or controlling a mech, the core gameplay is always the same. While they're not pushing any boundaries with their game design, Guerilla Games does succeed in delivering intense battles against agressive AI. The Helghast menace never lets up in fights and always reacts in ways appropriate to the situation - they'll flank you, outgun you, and always keep you on the edge. It really heightens the immersion, and it's just satifying taking down an enemy you know can just as easily kill you.

Unfortunately, these fun forays into a hail of bullets are too often interrupted by cutscenes included to tell a poorly-told story no one cares about. The game covers a span of one-dimensional characters from the ISA and Helghan military, but fails to make you care about any of them. Quite a bit of screentime is also given to an internal power struggle amongst the Helghan elite, covered for reasons that still elude me even as I type this. The scenes only serve to show that yes, the Helghan are some bad dudes.

Outside of the 6-7 hour SP, Killzone 3 also delivers several multiplayer options from couch bro-op to the usual online play. The co-op in Killzone 3 really feels like a lazy, half-assed effort. For starters, there is no online co-op which is just an amazing omission in this day and age. Secondly, the co-op campaign is treated as a separate entity so you can't just toss a controller at your buddy and continue on from your own game. While there are serious missed oppurtunities with the co-op, taking out the Helghan alongside a friend does still seem like a good time.

The online portion of Killzone 3 comes with the typical deathmatch mode and Killzone's own objective-based warzone and operations modes. I didn't spend much time with any of these modes, but I did enjoy the objective-focused styIe of the latter two modes. The frequent shifts in tasks always kept things moving and brought teamwork to the forefront. While I only played for a bit, I did notice two issues: health and the overpowered marksmen cIass. The current player health is too low, players simply die too quickly and the game becomes about who sees who first rather than skill. Now about the marksmen - an invisible sniper just does not scream balance to me. Playing as the marksmen got me noticeably easier kills - I cannot begin to imagine what a player that's actually good can do with the cIass. Anyhow, I've rambled on about this game for much longer than I intended so I'll shut up about Killzone now.

I haven't been following El Shaddai so when I started up the demo I didn't know what to expect aside from trippy visuals. After playing the demo, I'm not exactly sold on the game, but I am interested more than I was before playing.

The first thing I noticed when starting up the demo is how long it took to get to the start screen. Usually this sortof thing isn't worth mentioning - plenty of games have company logos and whatnot on start-up - but the amount of time it took to get through all of the unskippable company screens was really noticeable. Unfortunately, the game also takes quite a while to load. But when the game does finally load up, you're greeted with some seriously nice visuals. The artstyIe is a unique one and one El Shaddai pulls off well.

The demo strings you along a linear path with combat sections along the way and the occasional platforming bit. The controls of El Shaddai are simple - almost deceptively so as the game is not easy. Combat is handled entirely by one button, though you can hold it to change up attacks. When enemies are downed, you can press L1 to trigger a short segment where you steal the enemies weapon, which you can then use to beat them up. The weapons you pick deteriorate over time, noted by their color (blue is good, red is bad). Simply pressing L1 will purify your weapon for further use, but while purifying a weapon you leave yourself vulnerable to enemy attacks. And these enemies hit hard. You can defend yourself with R1, if you time it right, but fail and you'll take serious damage and mess up your outfit. While attacks are handled entirely by one button, you'll have to use every ability in your arsenal to succeed in battle. The enemies' overabundance of health makes things difficult for all the wrong reasons, and the fighting ability you have in your posession just feels lacking. Your character controls well and combat is satisfying...but it's just not suited to the enemies thrown at you.

Granted, I don't speak Japanese so it's entirely possible I'm missing something here. The game clearly has potential, and I'm willing to give the devs the benefit of the doubt for the final product.


The Spring season of anime has rolled around and most of the scheduled shows have begun, save for a few. So far I've seen the first episode of three shows:

Yes, it really is a guy.

This is Kampfer, a returning show from 2010 about shifting gender roles amongst the youth of modern Japan and a battle against lesbian schoolgirls. Only two episodes of Kampfer are coming out this time around - one dealing with plot, and the other with gratuitous fanservice. This episode was the latter.

Kampfer is not a good show. Kampfer is stupid, completely over the top, and utterly unashamed in its pandering to viewers - all aspects that make the show an enjoyable watch. Like I said earlier, this episode of Kampfer was all about the fanservice, fanservice it delivered in spades. This one episode covered bunny costumes, a lesbian harem, the obligatory white curry falling on girls' faces while they're in a daze of ecstasy just because, and other stuff I'm probably better off not describing. So nothing too out of the ordinary for the show.

An anime of X-Men? Yeah, I know what you''re thinking and such thoughts are totally understandable, but this is actually good! The show kicks off with the death of Jean Grey (in Phoenix mode) and picks up months later when the remaining X-Men have split paths. When a Japanese mutant goes missing, Xavier reassembles the team for a rescue mission.

Aside from Xavier, the episode features Wolverine, Storm, Cyclops, and Beast. This first episode does a good job of setting up character motivations, wasting no time in familiarizing viewers with the X-Men and their powers. The animation isn't anything to rave about, but it does its job and it does it well enough. The action scenes are directed well and aside from Beast, the character designs are pretty good. If you like the X-Men, or just want something good to watch I recommend giving the show a try.

This last one, Hanasaku Iroha, is show of the season from what I can tell. Basically, girl with crap life is forced out of her city home to an even crappier life at her grandmother's old-fashioned hot spring hotel. The first thing you'll notice with the show is how damn good it looks. The animation is top-notch and environments are wonderfully detailed; though I doubt they'll keep it up like this for the entire show, at least this first episode is real nice. The rest of the show is of high quality too - characters are likeable and believable and the story so far is interesting and looks to set up drama while avoiding the melodramatic. In the sea of moe currently flooding the industry, this kind of show really is quite refreshing.


If you've read all this (I know I wouldn't), then hats off to you!