Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Blue Reflection Ray (2021)

Blue Reflection Ray is an anime that is a spin-off of the game and is a prelude to the sequel game. It is 24 episodes long and follows Hiori and Ruka. The former is a Reflector, which is basically a magical girl. There are other Reflectors who would use their power to steal the feelings of others. When they do so, they create a temporary bubble, signified by the more fantastical elements, and the feelings are represented as a crystal. Reflectors are then able to transform in these bubbles, complete with weapons. It is like the original game in that the designs have a ballet theme to them.

Hiori is on the good side, and she fights against the other Reflectors as she does not believe that taken even unwanted feelings from someone will help them. Those feelings make up that person. Ruka can become a Reflector, but she is reluctant in the beginning as she doesn’t know what she wants to do with herself. It takes a short period of time before she finally decides.

The anime doesn’t explain the context of the setting very well and you’re left to figure it out yourself. It doesn’t help that the writing and pacing is subpar. It is very slow and there are times where it can be disjointed. Coupled with the poor and simple animation and this anime does not leave a good first, second, third or any sort of lasting impression. Unfortunately, the slow pacing and uninteresting plot continues to pander on for most of the season. You might start getting confused over several of the characters as they do not have much of a difference between them in terms of personality and appearance. Just like the games, the point of this show is to show off how beautiful the characters are, and the plot is second.

The plot supposedly has a big turning point in the middle of the season, but you’ll still find it hard to care. The anime was episodic for most of the first half of the season too. In every episode, there will be a small plot point and then the girl of the week who will have their feelings crystalized and attempted to be taken over by the enemy. Yes, things progress, such as the protagonists increasing in number, or the backstories coming out, but it is all so very dreary and dry.

Once the mid-season conflict is resolved, the second half seemingly goes back to how it was. It removes the episodic nature but it’s still about the protagonists finding a way to beat the antagonists. The antagonists are still in the background plotting away with their goal which hasn’t changed. While the protagonists are more aimless with just the generic “we have to stop them” as their only guiding post. Even big things such as the reveal of the characters you are supposed to know and supposed to feel surprised by, are dull.

While it is not a big revelation as such, the last part of the season is a little bit more focused. By now, it is obvious that the events concern and revolve around Hiori. Things being just that little bit clearer when it comes time to show off why it is so. The pacing remains slow and there are still too many scenes with nothing happening in them, but it’s a little less boring.

The season waits until the very end to reveal the motivation and backstory of the main villain. It is designed to be a tragic backstory so that you can feel sorry for her and empathize with her actions. However, it was left too late and so by that point, it is difficult to take her side considering all the things that she did. It doesn’t matter though since the anime finishes with the expected happy ending and things are quickly forgiven, making most of the season feel redundant.

Overall, Blue Reflection Ray is extremely average. The game it is based off didn’t have an amazing story, so this anime did not have a strong foundation to work off from anyway. However, the storyline did not have enough plot to sustain the full 24 episodes. Half of the episode count would have been sufficient because as it is, the pacing is too slow, and you lose interest in what happens. Having a reset in the middle of the season and then the characters kind of repeating what they were doing to catch up was not great either.


For other reviews, have a look at this page and this page.

Wednesday, April 10, 2024

Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana (Vita)

Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana was originally for the Vita, but was later ported to the PS4, PS5 and Switch. First off, Falcom always had decent graphics for their games on the Vita, such as Trails of Cold Steel and Ys: Memories of Celceta, and the trend continues here. The game looks great, although it is similar in style to the previously mentioned games, so can feel a bit samey at times.

The game follows Adol, who is travelling on a boat. It gets attacked by a giant sea monster and the boat capsizes. Adol is washed ashore on a mysterious island, named the Isle of Seiren. It’s an infamous place, as it is somewhere that is extremely dangerous from which no one has ever returned from. While on the island, he meets up with the captain of the boat and they work together on surviving. The captain oversees the building of a base where the stranded passengers can stay safe, while Adol explores the island and saves any other passengers that were washed ashore.

Adol starts off alone with weak equipment but that will eventually change. He soon meets up with two more characters, Laxia, who is seemingly your generic tsundere character, and Sahad, a gruff and down to earth kind of guy. Combat was always the key highlight of the Ys series and Lacrimosa of Dana plays in a similar fashion. One button is used for combat and then you can map special moves via hotkeys. The character can dodge and block, and doing these in the right moment will give you bonuses and advantages over the enemy. Finally, the characters can dash and run.

You have three characters in your party at any one time and each one will aid in attacking the monsters. They tend to go off on their own at times to seek out the nearest monsters, which can be good or bad. You can swap the playable character at any time with a button press and each one plays in a different way. Defeated enemies will drop items which you usually use to upgrade equipment, cook, and synthesize. It’s one of those simple but addictive gameplay loops. The key aim is to explore the island, which is separated into small sections that have a loading screen between each one.

The goal of the game is to explore the whole island. Despite what it may look like at first glance, the game is quite linear. It blocks off sections of the island until you have saved enough people to open those paths up. Enemies roam the environment, and they are usually quite easy. From time to time, you might encounter slightly higher leveled enemies that are harder to beat. You’ll have to take advantage of their weaknesses to specific types of weapons in such a case. There are frequent bosses which generally trend towards being big and uniquely designed to impress the player.

Scattered around the world are landmarks, which act as the collectibles of the game. There are fetch quests, as well as combat quests where you need to fight waves of enemies to protect the settlement from being overwhelmed. The game has good quality of life features such as the ability to fast travel from the get-go. However, if you die in combat, you will have to reload from your last save which feels archaic. You could potentially lose quite a bit of progress in such a case. Thankfully, you can save anywhere and anytime but there is a distinct lack of autosaving.

Despite all the positives, the game has a very slow start. It unlocks things at a glacial pace and the story goes nowhere for a long time as it continues its attempt to set things up. The boringness remains for at least 15 hours. The first section revolves around exploring the island and finding castaways, so it can feel repetitive. It gets better as it then unravels the mystery of the island of Seiren but doesn’t quite recover from the slow beginning. However, the exploration and fast paced gameplay never gets old. The characters have depth to them, including all the NPCs who are all given personalities and backgrounds that you spend time on getting to know about. Their dialogue frequently gets updated after every major event.

Collecting item drops from enemies is a huge part of the game. Every enemy you defeat will drop at least one item. They are used to get all your items, including equipment, potions, and food. You will struggle to upgrade everything right after something unlocks but that is what keeps you wanting to get out and explore. There’s also a bit of inventory management happening early on. You must go into the menu to constantly swap items that you need to equip to climb up vines or to see in the dark. Thankfully, you will eventually unlock more slots, but it is still much more annoying than it has any right to be.

There are some annoyances with the game such as the overly slow panning of the camera during scenes and equally slow animations. If there was a way to speed them up, that would be great. combine this with the large amount of filler in the story and the game can feel bloated. The story does become better towards the end as it explains the way the world works with a huge revelation. The ending can feel weak and rushed, but it highlights the relationships built between the characters and when the credits roll, it feels a bit sad to say goodbye to the characters.

When you eventually unlock all the characters and build up a good repertoire of skills, the gameplay still doesn’t get boring. At its core, it is simple but it’s just so easy and addictive. The difficulty can trend towards being a grind at times, with some enemies having too much HP, doing too much damage, or moving too fast for you to hit consistently. Most of the side quests are hunt or fetch quests but they are dressed up with some dialogue to try and mask the repetitive nature of them. The game had a terrible translation upon release and got a patch, but there are still formatting errors here and there.

The game takes around 30 to 40 hours to complete, depending on how much you explore and the difficulty that you are playing on. As per usual for Falcom games, there are a lot of missables and you can load your cleared save into a New Game Plus while carrying over a lot of things to make the second playthrough easier and faster. Even if you don’t, you can continue to explore the island and find all the collectibles and items. This is a big game and very impressive for the Vita.

Overall, Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana is a good game and the best Ys yet. The gameplay is fast paced and polished and there is a high emphasis on exploring. It is a lot of fun finding new areas, although enemies are a little bit on the bloated side in terms of health, so it can start to grate later. Similarly, the story is too bloated with a slow first half, and even when the plot picks up, it wastes a lot of time with slow animations and scene transitions. The story itself is much more in depth than you would expect, and while it doesn’t completely justify the first half, it is a good story by the end.


For other game reviews, have a look at this page and this page.

Wednesday, April 3, 2024

Toy Review: Transformers Generations Studio Series Snarl (SS-86 Leader)

Name:  Snarl
Brand:  Transformers
Allegiance:  Autobot
Line:  Generations - Studio Series
Year of Release:  2023
Size Class:  Leader (Wave 12)
Mold Status:  new


Snarl transforms into a robotic Stegosaurus, as based upon his appearance in the G1 cartoon.

This is a good beast mode, although only the plates on the back and his tail are painted gold, his legs and head are not.

The Dinobots were always decently sized figures, and Snarl continues the trend here.

The mouth can open and close, and while there are joints for the legs, he's not very poseable.

The robot sword pegs underneath him as storage.

The tail also cannot move, it is angled straight down which can look kind of weird.

While he can look stumpy from the side, this is still a solid beast mode.


To be honest, Snarl has a generic transformation that doesn't surprise you.  It's functional though, and the front splits to form the robot legs.  While the back forms the torso and arms.  He pretty much transforms as you'd expect him to.


Once again, the robot mode is good and in an effort to be show accurate, he is quite smooth looking and lacks many elements that would hit at what his alternate mode would be.

He carries some kibble on his back, but they are packed pretty close to the torso.

The head sculpt has a silver face to bring out the details.

Again, he is a decent size compared to older Leaders.

He comes with a cardboard stand depicting a scene from Autobot City.

Articulation is fine, he has joints for his head, shoulders, elbows, waist, hips, knees and the all important ankles.

For weaponry, he makes do with a sword.  Unlike the other Dinobots released so far, he doesn't have a gun.

The sword is made of a soft flexible plastic that's painted silver.

When not in use, the sword can store on his back in robot mode.

Snarl is chunky although there are a fair few hollow areas, so he is not as heavy as his size might imply.

Nevertheless, Snarl is a nice addition to your shelves and will draw your eyes with his presence.


Snarl is a solid toy.  He has no surprises and thus feels generic at times as a result.  To complete the collection of Dinobots, of course you will need to get him.


For other Transformers reviews, have a look at this page and this page.

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Wednesday, March 27, 2024

13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim (PS4)

13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim is a game by Vanillaware, who had developed Muramasa and Dragon’s Crown. Like with their other games, it has a beautiful aesthetic and art style, it is truly a piece of art. It is drawn to be like 2D and it looks amazing. Unlike their previous games though, the key draw is the story this time. The game is split into three sections. The main section contains all the story elements, and you play through the story in each of the thirteen character’s perspectives. They all intertwine and it isn’t as tedious as you might have first thought. The story is deliberately told in a disjointed manner, chronologically jumping back and forth. Despite this, it does an admirable job of quickly explaining the premise of the game, even if none of it makes sense. It takes a while before you can start to see how one part of a character’s story connects to another.

You cannot go through all of a character’s story in one go as it will eventually get locked until you make enough progress in other parts of the game. A slight problem with this is that you might go through heavy periods of story and then heavy periods of combat, and once you go back, you forget what you were up to. The story is interesting because you immediately see that there is a threat to humanity, being the kaiju, also known in game as Deimos. To combat this threat, giant mechs were created that can only be piloted by one of the thirteen characters, known as Sentinels.

The non-linear storytelling is deliberately confusing, especially when trying to piece together the chronological order. It doesn’t help that some events seem to contradict others, while you may be playing a character for so long that you forgot what happened to another. There is an in-game “Analysis” section that helps but in a game with already this much reading, it can be very dry to read yet another wall of text. The concept and premise are interesting and there are points in the story where there are big revelations that affects how you interpret the events up until that point.

The story is not told in a typical visual novel fashion. Rather, you are plonked in a sidescrolling area and then basically you talk to as many people as you need to, in order to progress. From time to time, you gain keywords that you need to mention to progress. There are no puzzles and very limited amounts of branching paths. Helpfully, there are charts that you can pull up within each specific sections of a character’s story so that you know where you may need to do something different to open up a different path. The animation of the characters are impressive and every single character, including the minor and major supporting characters, are voiced.

That said, the way of progressing a specific section may be annoying at times. Generally, you just need to go to the left or right, talk to everyone, or go through all of the character’s thoughts. However, there are times where it is not as clear, especially locked scenarios that turns out that you are not able to get to yet, but the chart misleadingly shows that there is a path left unexplored. Sometimes the 2D environment throws you out, or that you had to wait to trigger a different path.

The other big part of the game is the combat, which is like a real-time strategy RPG. Despite the promising premise, the characters that are piloting their sentinels, and the enemies that they are fight against, are only depicted in a simplistic manner. You have an overhead aerial shot of the battlefield and you are supposed to protect the “Terminal”, which the Deimos is aiming to destroy. Each sentinel has different abilities and moves, although they are grouped in one of four generations, which are differentiated by things such as being able to travel along the ground or the air, or the types of attacks that they have. In each battle, you can only pick a maximum of six characters to participate.

During battle, there is a countdown timer that keeps counting down unless it gets to a character’s turn. A Sentinel can choose to attack, repair itself or defend. Most attacks use up EP and each attack has different powers, ranges, EP cost, as well as the types of Deimos it may be effective again. Once a Sentinel has actioned a move, there is a wait time before their turn comes up again. The UI is a bit messy and confusing and it doesn’t help that the Deimos usually comes in huge packs. They can easily clog up the screen with a lot of red. Before every battle, you can upgrade, unlock and level up the Sentinels so that they get stronger. It’s an easy system to know the basics but takes a bit of time to get used to and be proficient at it.

After you’ve played around a third of the levels, you’ll get the hang of the battle system. You’ll come to realize that it is quite a basic system, but still fun. The ability to constantly upgrade more than just a few things for each character after every battle helps in sucking you in. It introduces new Deimos every so often, although usually it just means that they are bigger damage sponges. Luckily, the game isn’t hard on normal difficult, you can usually brute force you way through. It tries to impress you or replicate some sort of hopeless moment by throwing innumerable Deimos against you, but they’re also very easy to destroy in huge groups at once. As you play through and get used to how each character has their own unique abilities and moves, you can start to play and strategize a bit more.

Ultimately though, the non-linear storytelling causes the story to be confusing from the beginning to the end. Even with the big revelations, it might not immediately click into place and you have to take the time to fully absorb and think things through. It can feel that it doesn’t really explain all the mysteries, or put into context everything that had happened, so it’s like it is missing something. Forcing you to read chunks of text to fill in some of those gaps can be annoying, and thus the ending can be somewhat anticlimactic. To complete the game including the story and combat elements, will take around 25 to 30 hours if you read at a decent speed. Once you’ve watched the ending, it unlocks some extra battles but those are still the same stuff that you have been facing, so it doesn’t capture your interest for long.

Overall, 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim has a ton of potential. It initially delivers it in spades thanks to the gorgeous art design and the intriguing story. However, the decision to tell it in a non-linear fashion and having a heavy reliance on reading additional texts, as well as middling combat, drags the game down. Even with the timeline and finishing the whole story, you can still be left confused at several elements. It is not a bad game by any means, and the positives are more than enough to make a playthrough very worthwhile, but it felt like it could have been even more.


For other game reviews, have a look at this page and this page.

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