Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Fate/stay night (2006)


Fate/stay night is a 24 episode anime that is based on the visual novel of the same name. There were three routes in the visual novel and specifically, this anime adapts the Fate route. It takes three episodes before the anime gives away the premise and explains the key concepts of the plot. The protagonist is Emiya Shirou, whose father had passed away and left him a huge mansion to live in. He’s a nice guy and gets along with classmate Sakura, who comes over to his place every day to cook him meals. Meanwhile, his homeroom teacher Fujimara comes over to mooch off the food.


As we are introduced to Shirou and his normal life, the anime often cuts over to Tohsaka Rin, and a mysterious being that she had summoned. Once the big things are eventually revealed, we learn that Tohsaka is a Master and has summoned a Servant. In her case, her Servant is Archer. The purpose is to participate in a “game” against six other Masters and their Servants to gain control of the Holy Grail.


Shirou has a slight magical ability, we see him being able to sense and restore electronics. His magic was just enough to unintentionally summon his own Servant, Saber, when he was attacked by another Servant. He’s not a typical master, preferring to protect rather than attack. The fact that he recklessly defends while spouting dialogue on how he should protect girls skirts dangerously on the line of being too naive and corny.


Shirou refuses to take on a conventional role in the Holy Grail Wars since he has an idealistic view. He wants to end it without too much bloodshed so will attack if he has to but would rather avoid it. This clash with the whole dynamic between a Master and their Servant, given the Servant is usually stronger and does the fighting. Making this worse is the uneasy alliance between Shirou and Rin. Although it’s easy to see that Shirou slowly thaws Rin’s cold and to the point demeanor.


The move moves slowly forward and is definitely too slow paced at times. It is easy to guess who some of the other Masters were. While the anime tried to keep their identities hidden, it ultimately focused too much on “random” characters for it to be a surprise. Despite the Holy Grail Wars being so important and large in scope, all the Masters end up being located around the suburbs and school that Emiya is in. Ultimately it feels that Shirou is definitely holding Saber back. You can see that Saber wants to fight but Shirou highly discourages it and actively gets in the way. Granted, he has good reasons but there are still situations where you shouldn’t run headlong into without planning ahead that Shirou often does.


Shirou is frustrating to watch since he’s weak for most of the season. He doesn’t have enough magical ability within him to make a difference. He does not have the commitment to win a war like the other Masters do. He definitely does not have any noteworthy physical abilities. It takes over half the season before he finally shows a glimpse of power that has potential and even that fizzles out. That power fits what we know about him so it felt natural when he used it, rather than something pulled out of thin air. Despite that, it does feel a bit too late as you’ll probably be annoyed with him being useless and restriction for quite a while now.


Despite Shirou’s weakness, through his generosity, he will amass quite the number of allies. Unfortunately, the plot feels shallow as a result as it will be Shirou fighting and winning against the various Masters and Servants as he gets closer to the Holy Grail. It ties back to his past and father, as well as finding out a bit more about the Holy Grail itself, but ultimately it feels like an excuse plot device. Further weakening the series is the lack of consequences or weight behind the actions. No one remarks or feels anything given that it is people that they know and interact with, that have died in this war. Characters move on without mentioning anything as if nothing was wrong.


The romantic aspect moves slowly in the background. Towards the end of the season, it suddenly jumps at the forefront with Shirou realizing his feelings and acting on it immediately. It’s weak as a result with both characters expressing their feelings after occasionally showing glimpses of obvious affection beforehand. It doesn’t feel like it had a natural gradual build up so it’s not a good payoff when the ending comes.


Overall, Fate/stay night is a mediocre anime with a bland story, and is an adaptation done wrong given that the visual novel has such popularity. The Holy Grail Wars is simple and it somehow manages to drag out what little story and events there were into 24 episodes. This is actually quite an impressive feat when you look back at the end and try to remember what exactly happened. The animation quality is of pretty low standard with a lot of the fight scenes just involving the characters yelling with streak effects. It’s a poor introduction to the Fate franchise and one that might just put you off the whole thing.

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Monday, October 25, 2021

Mass Effect: Andromeda (PS4)


Mass Effect: Andromeda is a spin-off of the Mass Effect trilogy, featuring a completely new cast and a new galaxy to explore. Unfortunately, it does not live up to the hype of its predecessors, releasing in a broken state and even with all the patches, it is still not that great. Even on a PS4 Pro, there are noticeable framerate drops which make what’s onscreen stutter. There is no option to drop the resolution down from 1800p to try and give it a “performance” mode. The graphics aren’t stellar either, feeling only a slight bit above the PS3 games.


While Andromeda starts off the story between the events of Mass Effect 2 and Mass Effect 3, the actual game takes place long after the ending of the trilogy. You play as Ryder, who is part of the human group traveling to Andromeda to find a suitable planet to colonize. Along with the other alien races, their objective is to colonize and expand their influence in the Andromeda galaxy, similar to how it is at Milky Way. Ryder is part of the scouting group who goes ahead to make sure that the proposed planets are suitable for life.


After 600 years of hibernation, they awake to find that things are not going as smoothly as they expected. Their ship encounters a dark energy cloud and is damaged, while Ryder is sent along with his teammates to explore the planet. The planet turns out to be inhabited by a new, hostile, alien species. It takes a short while before the familiarities of the Mass Effect universe to come into play. The various alien species we’ve come to known make their appearance after the prologue, while there are several new species introduced.


This is a RPG cover shooter. With a third person camera, the shooting mechanics are what you’d expect. However, Ryder has biotic powers, which maps to the shoulder buttons. These include explosive, gravitational and other effects. Unlike the weapons who rely on ammo, the powers are on a short cooldown. Sadly, the game has a horrible tutorial for gameplay mechanics. They bombard you with boring text and still manage to make it vague enough to not be immediately easy to grasp. It seems to over-complicate things with its various systems which makes the whole experience feel bloated.


As Ryder levels up, he or she obtain points which can be put towards improving their stats or improving their powers. Upon creation of your character, you aren’t regulated towards a particular class anymore, rather, you determine the powers you want and create your own customized class. The same goes for your teammates, although they have a much more truncated skill tree.


The biggest addition here is the jump jet which makes levels a lot more vertical. Ryder is able to use their jets to quickly jump up or forward, which the game uses to add some minor platforming elements. This is not a good thing as the developers keeps adding these stupid jumping gimmicks to the level design, which makes them tedious and annoying to traverse through to your objective.


The level designs are bigger and less linear with branching paths. Andromeda has a focus on exploration and the various planets that you can land on are huge open world maps with heaps of things to do. There are new side missions popping up all the time. However, it can be a slog from the very beginning, where it is barren and you’re constantly asked to scan things. There is no countdown to impending doom as part of the story but it takes this too far and the pacing suffers for it.


The main story is cutscene heavy with a limited amount of combat. This is a shame given that the cutscenes are pretty boring. The story seems to meander for a while, covering standard stuff of Ryder going to various planets, befriending the existing species or finding out more information about the mysterious ancient alien civilization. This makes Andromeda feel extremely slow paced and it is really weird with the setting of being the first in the galaxy, going to uncharted places, but complex structures are built at a high speed or there already being an advanced civilization, contrary to that colonization aspect.


Dialogue options are a huge part of Mass Effect but in Andromeda, the various dialogue choices don’t seem to correspond that accurately to what Ryder actually says. A lot of the times, none of the dialogue choices feel appropriate to how you want to portray your Ryder. Another gimmick is hazardous conditions on planets that will constantly drain your Life Support meter. While it is not really that dangerous since the depletion rate is slow, it is still annoying that you’re on a time limit every time you first get to a planet before you end up terraforming it. Throughout your whole playthrough, there is a constant need to interact with what are basically switches, levers and doors, which is repetitive and tiring. Waiting for doors to open while the indicator is spinning reminds you of the elevators from the first game.


The camera is situated too close to Ryder with no option on consoles to pull it back. This is probably because pulling it back would have caused the frame-rate and performance to tank even further. The environments can be pretty and the wide open areas are impressive at times, but being empty, they’re just there for you to rush past. You do miss the bustling of the areas of the original trilogy; it feels so lifeless even in hubs in Andromeda. Furthermore, the facial animations are still off, particularly around the eyes rolling for no reason and the weird blinking of characters.


The bugs are extremely disappointing, particular one if you don’t immediately initiate the final story mission after finishing the penultimate one (e.g. if you’ve played enough and want to turn the console off), then it won’t appear at all. This sort of game breaking bug that prevents you from even completing the game and laziness of not even fixing it is disgusting. If you’re lucky, you’ll notice it quickly and so you won’t lose too much progress by reloading an old save, rushing through the penultimate mission again and hopefully it’ll trigger the final one. Then there are similar bugs for loyalty missions where you can get a black screen and even reloading an older save may not help. The cause could be due to “skipping” cutscenes (jumping to the next piece of dialogue before the NPC finishes speaking). It’s ridiculous and puts you off the whole game.


The main story chain of missions only takes you around ten or so hours. The bulk of the game will be made up of the optional side missions, which includes the loyalty missions of your squad. Unfortunately, the story, just like all the characters, feels flat. As a result, even the climax is not that great and the way the final level was structured did not feel epic at all. The story is dull thanks to having a ton of unoriginal developments. Ryder is like a much more boring version of Shepard, who goes around recruiting allies and finding advanced technology of a long dead civilization in order to save the galaxy.


The loyalty missions, even though they are the better missions of the game, still boil down to travel to a planet, sit through multiple non-skippable cutscenes (doubling as loading screens), either run or drive to the location marker, spend less than a minute talking and then return to your ship to travel to another planet. You’ll spend 95% of the time either sitting through loading screens or mindlessly driving to the location and the payoff is not worth it.


Overall, Mass Effect: Andromeda is a massive disappointing, even if you have tempered your expectations and did not expect much of it. The fact that it is still riddled with performance issues and bugs that the developer and publisher never bothered to fix is frankly disgusting. The story is boring, the characters are boring, and the gameplay is boring. There are few redeeming features of the game. It’s a bad game overall, and one of the worst AAA games of the generation. It definitely tarnished the reputation of the original trilogy.

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Sunday, October 24, 2021

Toy Review: Transformers Generations War for Cybertron Kingdom Galvatron (Leader)


Review: 
#685
Name:  Galvatron
Brand:  Transformers
Allegiance:  Decepticon
Line:  Generations - War for Cybertron:  Kingdom
Year of Release:  2021
Size Class:  Leader (Wave 3)
Mold Status:  new

ALTERNATE MODE:


Based upon his appearance in the G1 movie, Galvatron transforms into a space cannon.  While you can leave it off, the Matrix of Leadership also pegs securely right below the main cannon.


One of the nice surprises during your first transformation will be how the robot legs end up forming a third leg, or stand, for the cannon mode.  It works wonderfully well and adds some much needed stability to the mode.


In terms of size, Galvatron is not too bad in alternative mode.  He feels really compact and hefty.  Above is a comparison against TLK Leader Optimus and Siege Voyager Optimus.


The front two legs have molded treads, and all three legs have small plastic wheels so you can actually roll him on a flat surface.


This is a really good alternate mode.  Yes, it is a fantasy cannon so it's not very realistic, but it looks surprisingly decent.

TRANSFORMATION:

For the most part, the transformation scheme is simple.  The back of the cannon forms the robot legs, the front two legs with the treads form the arms.  Interestingly, the barrel of the cannon folds up and the purple torso piece then lifts up to cover it.  The legs and the torso are probably the most interesting parts of the transformation.

ROBOT MODE:


Galvatron's robot mode is even stronger than the cannon mode, there's a lot more purple here now as well.


He does have some kibble, the most egregious of which are the treads behind his arms.  They don't lock anywhere and since they sit below the elbow, you have to readjust every time you move the arms.


The head sculpt is fantastic, the purple crown coupled with the silver face and red eyes are sublime.



The first batch of figures has the shoulders misassembled.  They sit lower than they should.  You can flip the shoulders around but this will then reveal the silver pin used to hold the shoulders together.  The second batch onwards fixed this.  Above on the top is the incorrect lower shoulders, and the bottom shows it flipped around to have it situate higher.


In terms of size, Galvatron is just a tad bit taller than a typical Voyager, but much bulkier and heftier.  He's nowhere near the height of what Leaders used to be, however, he does have less hollow parts so it's an okay tradeoff.  To be honest, Leaders these days are what Ultras used to be around a decade ago.


Galvtron comes with a few accessories.  There is his main cannon, a Matrix of Leadership on a chain, and two guns.


The cannon, which is comprised of the orange barrel and another grey piece, pegs onto his arm, situated above the elbows.


The Matrix of Leadership just goes around his head.  Unlike in alternate mode, this doesn't peg anywhere, so it just sits loosely there.  The Matrix is detachable but Galvatron's hands are not designed to hold it though so there is little point.


With the two guns, they are apparently molded to look like Revenge ships.  If you don't already know about them, it's pretty hard to tell which side is supposed to face up, and which side is supposed to face down.


Galvatron can hold both guns at the same time, although it doesn't look too great.


That is because the guns are designed to clip together to form a larger circular gun, although now it is a bit too big and bulky.


When not in use, both guns can peg onto a space on his back.


In terms of articulation, Galvatron has joints for his head, shoulders, elbows, wrists, waist, hips, knees and ankles.


While he does look good, the fact that his shins are just a tad bit wider than his thighs can make the robot mode seems proportionally off.


This is actually one of the heftiest and most solidly built Transformer we've had in a while.  He feels sturdy, and doesn't have an excess of hollow parts.


A strong robot mode with a few accessory options.

OVERALL:

Galvatron is a really nice toy and the best Galvatron figure we've had.  It beats the Titans Return one by several miles.  Galvatron feels solid in both modes, focusing on being a good Transformer and did not  cheap out.

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Friday, October 22, 2021

Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017)


Star Wars:  The Last Jedi, also known as Episode VIII, continues on with the sequel trilogy.  It follows from the cliffhanger revelation of the previous film where Rey finds Luke Skywalker on a remote island.  If you thought that it would lead to some sort of big event, you'll be sorely disappointed.  As it is, the scope of The Last Jedi is surprisingly small.  You start to have your suspicions and when it is confirmed, it's kind of annoying.  Leia and the rest of the Resistance are pinned down by the First Order, and the bulk of the film follows this standoff.  The ship carrying the last remnants of the Resistance is struggling to fend off against the might of the First Order, and it is up to Finn and Rose to somehow carry through a plan to get them out.  On the other hand, Luke plays the character who has had some traumatic experience and does not want to have anything to do with the Jedi anymore.  Frankly, it's a far cry from the character we are used to.  There is a higher focus on emotional impact, for better or worse, and deliberate scenes to evoke a particular feeling even if it wasn't done in a Star Wars movie before.  With expectations so high, The Last Jedi cannot satisfy everyone.  It is still an enjoyable film but does feel lacking in various areas.

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Angel Beats! (2010)


Angel Beats! is an original anime with the concept by the ones behind Clannad (i.e. Key). It was then later adapted into a visual novel. It is thirteen episodes long with two OVAs, and a short 3 minute clip that shows off an alternate ending. The premise might not be what you expected. Even after the first two episodes, it still takes a while for your head to wrap around and the rules that govern it. Otonashi Yuzuru wakes up and he is informed that he is in the afterlife. It takes on the form of a typical Japanese high school and Otonashi has no memories of before. He’s told that he cannot die and that they as a group are here to fight off something called Angel. It turns out that Angel is the Student Council President and when Otonashi questions the “cannot die” part, he gets stabbed, faints and wakes up in the infirmary. The significance of what happens is clearer as while he cannot die, he still feels the pain.


Otonashi meets up with the leader of the group, Nakamura Yuri. She explains the situation where they are all currently dead but there are other “students” in the high school. They are suitably labeled as NPCs since they act as if nothing has happened. Otonashi can choose to obliterate himself by living a normal school life and reincarnate as another living being (with no guarantee that he will reincarnate as a human), or he can stay, rebel and join their fight against Angel. Angel targets them, finding their headquarters and attempting to destroy it. She has access to special abilities and the whole world seems to take on a digital tinge, as the characters are able to create weapons by morphing materials into other materials.


The anime has a very slow start. It has a typical structure where each early episode focuses on one of the characters.  The episode will then proceed to show off the backstory of that character. In particular, we will learn about the circumstances of their death, which is supposed to elicit some sympathy out of the viewer. However, what holds it back is you still probably wouldn’t have figured out the objectives of the group in this world and just what the rules governing them are, or even the point of everything. Events feel random and you pretty much can’t take the story that seriously. It tries very hard with its gags but some of them are corny.


Naturally, there is more to the situation than at first glance. Angel, being the student council president, is not some emotionless being with higher power. Naturally, it is Otonashi who discovers this and befriends her.  However, the anime doesn’t turn this into its advantage. It instead opts to go along the well worn path that it itself had already gone on multiple times. It continues to give up sad backstories and being able to befriend everyone to join the group.


The key theme among the members is that each one struggled during the lives. Most of their unhappiness stemmed from familial bonds, which is a recurring theme with Key related works. This doesn’t make it a bad bad but it does make it predictable. Unfortunately, it doesn’t have good enough character development to pull off the type of things that it tries to do. As a result, you don’t really have much feeling when something significant happens to a character.


It takes the majority of the season before it finally reveals the purpose of this “afterlife”. It’s nothing spectacular and does feel anticlimactic. The highly exaggerated responses of the characters don’t help. It is actually a pretty decent premise but it squanders all potential by picking the most generic route in approach it, so it results in a mediocre storytelling attempt. The only saving grace is the excellent 


The second half of the season felt rushed and messy in how it wanted to tell its story. Therefore it is a far cry from the heights that it had wanted to reach. However, it still manages to pack in an emotional punch at the end, where you’re sad and happy for the characters in terms of what they have achieved and how they are moving on. After the ending, there are two OVAs, which take place in the earlier part of the season.  Both OVAs are sillier than the other episodes, with a lot of exaggerated acting. It does clash with the rest of the anime. The OVAs are bloated and not very interesting, especially since it adds nothing to the lore of the world.


Overall, Angel Beats! is a mediocre anime. It never manages to pick up its feet and whatever potential it had with its concept, it squanders it almost immediately. It’s got episodes where it feels like it is wasting time and dragging out things too much, while others feel too rushed and doesn’t really explain much about the situation at all.

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