Monday, July 23, 2018

Book Review: Accel World 10: Elements


Review:  #763
Title:  Accel World 10:  Elements
Series:  Accel World - 10th volume
Author:  Reki Kawahara
Read Before:  no
Comments:  Elements is a collection of side stories that takes place in between the previous volumes.  The first is “The Sound of Water on a Distant Day” which takes it all the way back to when Haru just got his avatar of Silver Crow.  He levels up but uses up most of his points in the process, leading to a real risk of losing Brain Burst forever.  This just shows off the stupidity of the system sometimes, using what are effective life points in order to level up?  Able to be challenged by anyone any time and the fact that new players only get 100 points to start with?  All this is a recipe for disaster and it is a miracle players survive.  Anyway, we are introduced to a new character who you know will be important in future volumes.  It’s fairly interesting although the resulting battle feels truncated and cut short right when it was getting good.  It takes the easy way out in retconning it back such that Haru never once mentioned this event in previous volumes.  The second is “The Roar of the Sea at the Ends of the Earth” which takes on the side of Kuroyukihime when she was at the Okinawa school trip while Haru was trying to defeat Dusk Taker.  Again, it expands on Brain Burst and the various technical matters and this is by far the longest short story.  It’s quite interesting and we learn a lot more about how Kuroyukihime thinks, and realize that she is not as pure and calm as her exterior might lead you to believe.  In the end, she encounters a powerful enemy that she defeats but unfortunately, the author continues his preference of pulling miracles out of nowhere to solve the problem which cheapens the whole thing.  Then the author goes ahead and introduce more mysteries that seemingly cannot be explained unless you dive into the realm of pure fantasy.  Nevertheless, it is a neat fit into the existing story and is great to see how Black Lotus managed to get onto the flying horse to save Haru and Takumu at that fateful fight against Dusk Taker.  The final short story is “Versus’ in which it is a crossover between Accel World and Sword Art Online.  Crossovers are always awesome and this is not exception with Kirito and Silver Crow duking it out.  However, being a clash between the two main characters, the author cannot have one have an upper hand on the other and thus it feels somewhat superficial when the two alternate between who’s gaining the advantage.  Overall, Elements is a solid distraction of side stories within the Accel World universe.
Rating:  7/10

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Toy Review: Transformers Generations Power of the Primes Hun-Gurrr (Voyager)


Review:  #455
Name:  Hun-Gurrr
Brand:  Transformers
Allegiance:  Decepticon
Line:  Generations - Power of the Primes
Year of Release:  2018
Size Class:  Voyager (Wave 2)
Mold Status:  new

ALTERNATE MODE:


Hun-Gurrr transforms into a twin-headed dragon on four legs.


This is a blocky dragon mode, the limbs are especially awkward.


Above is a size comparison against Titans Return Optimus Prime.  Despite looking big, Hun-Gurrr is quite hollow and feels light in your hands.


As part of the Power of the Primes line, he comes with a character card.


The two robot weapons, which doubles up as the combined mode's feet, can peg onto the back legs.


Each head can open it's mouth and the necks are jointed in multiple areas (as they double as the robot's legs).


While the neck has plenty of articulation, his limbs are a lot more static, especially the forelegs.


As is the trend with recent figures, Hun-Gurrr sports a multitude of stickers.  It's not the worst application of stickers but it is still not ideal.


The proportions are off with a huge neck, an uneven torso and small forelegs.


This is not the best alternate mode, especially for a Voyager.  Hun-Gurrr is very average in this mode.

TRANSFORMATION:

The transformation to robot mode is very simple.  The two dragon heads straighten to form the legs.  The robot arms are the rear legs and the tail folds down to reveal the head.  Finally, the forelegs tuck onto his back.

ROBOT MODE:


The robot mode isn't stellar either with huge forearms but skinny legs.


He wears a backpack which is there as it contains the combined mode's parts.


The headsculpt at least is solid, even though it's a fairly simple design.


Size-wise, Hun-Gurrr is a bit taller than other Voyagers.


Articulation is pretty good.  His hips are ratchets while everything else are swivels or pinned hinges.


His legs are particularly versatile thanks to double jointed knees and ankle tilts.


His weapons are the combined mode's feet, which are shaped like blasters.


These pieces can peg onto the outside of his forearms.  While they don't look bad at all, you do miss a proper handheld weapon.


He also comes with an Enigma of Combination.


The Enigma can peg onto any of the combined mode's feet pieces.   Despite looking like he should have no trouble standing, thanks to the uneven surface of the inside of the dragon's heads, it can take some adjustments to get him balanced properly.


Hun-Gurrr can look good in a lot of poses, but he is still flawed with his awkward proportions.

OVERALL:

Hun-Gurrr is an average toy.  He doesn't excel in any areas as the dragon mode looks awkward, as a matter of fact, as does the robot mode too.  His proportions are off and is a sacrifice for the combined mode.  The biggest reason to get this figure is for the combined mode Abominus.

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When you first get Hun-Gurrr into torso mode, it is at this point that you realize how much engineering is inspired by Combiner Wars Silverbolt.  From the legs folding up to form the torso, to the head flipping out to the giant forearms forming the thighs.  You can feel a bit cheated despite Hun-Gurrr being a new mold.


Torso mode is truly where Hun-Gurrr stands out.  He looks fantastic with great proportions and details.


Thanks to the tight joints, he is very poseable.  That's it for this review, thank you for reading!

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Tokyo Xanadu (Vita)


Tokyo Xanadu is an action JRPG developed by Falcom, of The Legend of Heroes and Ys fame.  It was originally for the PlayStation Vita but it was ported and remastered for PS4 and PC with additional content.  The game takes place in modern Tokyo, at a satellite suburb called Morimiya City.  Unlike Falcom's other games, this is based on the real world.  It follows Kou, a high school student who one day encounters his classmate, Asuka, and witnesses a red crack in midair.


Asuka enters the crack and Kou unwittingly enters as well, to find out that this is the Eclipse, an alternate reality where monsters run free.  In this reality, Kou has access to his Soul Weapon which can dispatch the monsters called Greed.  The game has a fairly basic action battle system and is quite similar to Ys.  One button is used to jump, one for a normal attack, one for a special skill and finally there are special X-Attacks.


Later on, you'll unlock partner bonuses, charged attacks and area attacks.  This is a 3D action game so the camera can be rotated freely and there is a lock-on function, which shows the enemy's weakness.  The characters can also dash and dodge, which is critical for surviving boss battles without too much damage.  While there are plenty of playable characters, you control only one at a time and only one is onscreen at a time.


You can freely swap between three characters, with the one in Support able to regain health.  Each character has an element, thus you are encouraged to switch characters often to exploit the enemies' elemental weaknesses.  Dungeons are linear and designed to be finished as quickly as possible.  You are given a rank upon clearing dungeons based on the same optional objectives each time such as fast clear time, no damage and other factors.  The short dungeon makes the story bits in between feel long and slows down the pacing.


Dungeons in later chapters have annoying obstacles/traps.  These include platforming when the jumping mechanics isn't great int he game, or moving poles that paralyze you.  Dungeon design is uninspiring and feels lazy in later chapters when it reuses similar settings and actually the same bosses, only that you're fighting several at once.  While the gameplay is similar to Ys, the game and story structure is similar to Trails of Cold Steel.


The story focuses upon Kou's high school life as well and he will get Free Time in each chapter which allows him to talk to NPCs (all with multiple unique dialogue which refreshes after each major story event and fills up an in-game index).  There are also the familiar Bonding Events with his friends to gain more backstory and deepen their relationships, purchase items and do quests.


There are both optional and mandatory quests, however, a lot of these are gained by talking to NPCs and thus it is extremely easy to miss some of them.  If you have played Trails of Cold Steel, then a lot of Tokyo Xanadu will feel familiar.  Everything from the graphics to the school setting uses the same engine.  There are a lot of other common elements such as equipping Elements to your characters.  It shares a lot of stylistic designs and aesthetics to the point that it feels like as spin-off.  Characters and minigames from Trails of Cold Steel I and II make an appearance here.


Despite being a cross of two great games, it is shallower than both.  However, the simple combat is still heaps of fun, especially since there are no ridiculous difficulty spikes.  The game on the whole on Normal difficulty is very easy.  However, there are two higher difficulties, Hard and Nightmare, as well as Infinity on New Game Plus which boosts all enemy levels by 50.  Sadly, all higher difficulties do is that enemies hit a lot harder and become bullet sponges.


Higher difficulties end up becoming very tedious when you fight a boss with a limited and predictable attack pattern for minutes just because they have so much HP, even more so when they constantly dodge or move around.  Unfortunately, the story is extremely predictable in how the Eclipse is formed (negative human emotions) and how it is affecting the people that Kou know.  It shows all the potential of his friends who also have the ability to be a Wielder and join the party.


The story is simply not engrossing enough, therefore the long cutscenes are a bore unlike Trails of Cold Steel.  You're usually just itching to go back to the dungeons.  One of the nitpicks is that the game is extremely guilty of slowly panning cutscenes that takes a few seconds before anyone actually speaks, which feels like padding the game's length out.  However, the game has a very good ending.  The big revelation, while you suspected it a while before it actually happens, still hits you hard once you realize the massive impact it has on the characters.


The ending scene is a sad one leading to a bittersweet finale and helped redeem the story overall.  Sadly, this is quickly dashed in the Epilogue, or the game's true ending since what happens there cheapens the original ending.  The game has Japanese voiceovers with English subtitles.  The translation is functional for the most part but more obvious in later chapters are spelling mistakes, formatting issues, inconsistent use of pronouns and even sections where the Japanese is left untranslated.


It takes 30-40 hours to finish and New Game Plus unlocks six new optional dungeons, and allowing you to carry over pretty much everything.  If you're aiming for Trophies or 100% completion of the game, one of the most annoying thing is the RNG required for cooking all required dishes.  It is extremely aggravating when you cook 40 times in a row and still not get the Failed Dish that you wanted.


Overall, despite the bland story, uninspiring dungeons and simple combat, Tokyo Xanadu is still a ton of fun.  Being a Falcom game, plenty of attention has been spent in the game world, with varied NPCs with unique personalities, a variety of sidequests and fun gameplay.  It is a solid JRPG that's recommended for anyone who's into the genre.

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Friday, July 20, 2018

The One (2001)


The One stars Jet Li and the plot has a interesting premise.  Multiple universes exist, and within those universes, there is another you.  Jet Li plays Yulaw, who discovers that if he kills the other "hims" in the parallel universes, their powers transfer to the remaining "hims", thus if he kills them all, he becomes the most powerful, to the point of being a god.  Authority exists to prevent this kind of thing happening and as Yulaw hunts down the last him, this is also the one that potentially will foil his plans.  Unfortunately, the potential of the plot is never utilized to its full potential.  The One seems to want itself to be taken seriously but the exaggerated fight sequences, an over reliance on special effects and unrealistic stunts significantly hamper the enjoyment of the film.  Half an hour in, it degenerates into another generic action film with nothing that makes it stand out.  The soundtrack, which places a bias on the rock and heavy genres, feels really out of place.  A mediocre film at best.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Book Review: Accel World 9: The Seven-Thousand Year Prayer


Review:  #762
Title:  Accel World 9:  The Seven-Thousand Year Prayer
Series:  Accel World - 9th volume
Author:  Reki Kawahara
Read Before:  no
Comments:  The story arc involving the Armor of Catastrophe parasitizing Haru is resolved in this volume.  While it isn’t spectacular in the truest sense of the word, it was satisfying but also a bit too idealistic.  Brain Burst is indeed evolving into something that goes way beyond a simple program; no matter how advanced they are in the future.  As a result, all these additional features of the program are starting to really stretch the reader’s patience.  Nevertheless, this was an intense volume with heaps of action going on.  At times, the writing can start to get to you with the trend of repeating past events in the form of summaries and the ever escalating number of formidable foes.  It is seriously a wonder how newcomers manage to keep themselves from losing completely to these veterans.  There is a significant surprise twist to a certain character that we’ve come to love although this means that it kind of adds to Haru’s circle of females who may or may not have feelings for him.  Kuroyukihime is still an enigma, become so powerful and steadfast when she’s in the accelerated world but somehow being so easily flustered in real life, it feels inconsistent.  The title of the volume takes a whole new meaning once you consider that this is exactly how much time has passed since we learned the story behind the Armor of Catastrophe in Volume 7.  While you may or may not agree with the treatment of the enhanced armament by the end of the volume, it was a strong arc and was a fantastic story.
Rating:  6.5/10

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Shinzo - Season 1 (2000)


Shinzo, known as Mushrambo in Japan, is a loose anime adaptation of the Chinese classical novel Journey to the West.  The first season is comprised of 21 episodes.  The background of the series is that 500 years ago, the Earth was taken over by a species known as Enterrans, with humanity being wiped out in the process.  The Enterrans took over the Earth and made it their planet, calling it Enterra, with many of the cities reduced to overgrown ruins.  As the series goes on, the true history of the Enterrans and their origins are revealed.


The English dub of Shinzo starts off with a confusing first episode where the scene changes are abrupt and quick.  This weird sense of editing is kind of explained in episode 2 where it repeats all of the same scenes but fleshes it out such that the flow and dialogue makes sense.  However, this still doesn't justify it.  Nevertheless, we are introduced to Mushra.  We first see him tied up at a waterfall for a crime, and this scene will be repeatedly brought up in flashbacks through the whole season.  A human girl, Yakumo, arrives to free him and they team up together.


Yakumo could very well be the last human in the world, but her objective is to travel to the city of Shinzo, where apparently the rest of the humans are.  It is a stock standard save the world type of plot as Mushra battles enemies who want to cause Yakumo harm and hinder her journey.  To round out the team, Mushra and Yakumo meets up with two other characters, a cat-like Kutal, and the more conventional Sago.  They just sort of turn up and their reasons for joining are never fully explained, you have to accept that they're loyal to Yakumo and move on.


The group meets plenty of enemies targeting Yakumo, spurred on by the myth that if you devour a human, you gain immense power.  When Enterrans are defeated, they turn into cards, which other Enterrans can then absorb.  This absorption of power morphs their physical appearances, known as Hyper-Enterrans.  The trio themselves also have this ability to transform into more powerful versions of themselves for combat.  Most Enterrans have animal motifs as the first season goes through themes with insect Enterrans in the beginning, before switching to animals and so forth.


There are plenty of flaws with the plot.  For one, the group forms too quickly for their friendship and loyalty to have any true meaning.  Therefore, in the earlier episodes and arguably to the last episode, the group doesn't have any sort of charisma or chemistry at all.  The early episodes feel segmented and hacked together making it confusing and poorly paced.  The English dub did literally dice up and piece the scenes back together resulting in the same scenes repeating multiple times in various episodes.


There is a lot of repetition with flashbacks and stock footage, combined with a villain of the week type of episode format.  Battle scenes are weak since they are over too quickly without much action.  The fights are not fluid and has awkward scene transitions and editing, leaving them unsatisfying and boring.  By episode 9 though, Shinzo takes the time to properly pace the fight scenes leading to a good atmosphere and even puts forward a few surprises.  Despite the improvements, it is still subpar.


Sadly, the characters are one-dimensional.  They do not develop much further than Kutal eating all the time, Mushra being rash and arrogant, with only Sago having some sense of responsibility.  Despite all the danger towards Yakumo, it is a wonder that the trio often leaves Yakumo alone making it easy for their enemies to kidnap her.  Very late in the first season is the plot expanded beyond just "reaching Shinzo".  It gives their journey a more reachable objective and has a neat concept, even though it's a simple concept.


While it seemingly sets up a long arc in the traditional structure of defeating each of the Enterran Generals on their quest to Shinzo, it is surprisingly (and somewhat cheaply) cut short as the season nears its end.  To top it off, the ending feels like a sham and really rushed in order to get the happy ending that it required (and a hint for the next season).  Overall, Shinzo has plenty of neat ideas such as betrayal and even corruption of the protagonists' Hyper forms.  However, the plot is severely underdeveloped, lacking substance and most importantly, not told in a coherent manner which makes the anime feel disjointed and boring as a result.

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Monday, July 16, 2018

Book Review: Accel World 8: The Binary Stars of Destiny


Review:  #761
Title:  Accel World 8:  The Binary Stars of Destiny
Series:  Accel World - 8th volume
Author:  Reki Kawahara
Read Before:  no
Comments:  Following on from the epic cliffhanger of the previous volume, the faceoff between Takumu and Haru is resolved in an average way here.  Naturally, equipping the Destiny armament, Haru manages to subdue Takumu and convince him to not sacrifice himself.  A huge part of this volume focuses on the Incarnate system, and you’ll hear the words “image” again and again and again.  It gets a bit cringeworthy in the end, especially when Haru starts learning more Incarnate attacks and naming them with the most embarrassing of names.  The lines start to blur significantly between the original rules of Brain Burst, and the Incarnate system which is seemingly overpowered and can literally rewrite all the rules of the program, making them pointless in the first place and leaving an uneven playing ground.  As the quest to escape from the Imperial Palace continues, once again, it shows how unbalanced the game can be with overpowered enemies for any normal player, taking several overpowered characters in order to defeat one of the enemies.  You start to feel that the author is seriously making things up to try and be more impressive as he goes along without giving much thought on the consequences (even more so than before).  The writing feels weaker but the plot is still interesting enough to hook you, there is still plenty of potential left.  It’s slight annoying but expected, that it ends on yet another cliffhanger.
Rating:  6.5/10
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