Wednesday, September 27, 2023

Tales of Vesperia: Definitive Edition (PS4)

Tales of Vesperia: Definitive Edition is a remaster of the game from the Xbox 360 and PS3 era. However, this uses the PS3 version that was exclusive to Japan, which had a ton of exclusive content. This is an action RPG and it is a familiar system for people who has played the Tales series. You control one character in a party of four, with the AI controlling the other three. Battles take place in a separate screen and the default has you running in a straight line to or from your target. You may also free-run around the arean by holding the trigger button.

There is a normal attack that can combo, and supplementing that is an artes button. Artes are either special moves or magic, that you can chain onto the end of a normal combo. The combat system can be similar to a fighting game in that you map different artes to a combination of the button press and a direction of the analogue stick. It’s fun and clever and once you’re able to get a feel of the system, it is also addictive. Being able to block and use items rounds out the combat system. The AI is customizable to a degree. You can set parameters and general behaviours, such as a specific character will use an item when HP is low, or another character will focus on healing. You can then set three pre-set strategies which you can change during battle.

The combat system can take some time to get used to, especially if you prefer faster combat mechanics. For some reason, your character has a long animation before and after every combo where they are vulnerable. What this means is that you are more than likely to be interrupted by enemies and it can be a frustrating experience. The worst part of the combat comes to the forefront in the battles where you are forced to fight solo against a group of enemies. It’s not a pleasant experience when you are being stunlocked to death. It rubs salt into the wound when some of these solo battles act as tutorials that you end up dying in and being forced to reload a save… and the game uses save points. There is no auto-save either so if you forgot to save for a while and die to an enemy or boss, then you will have to repeat everything again.

This is a classic JRPG so it has towns, dungeons and a world map. Its earlier 3D roots are evident given that the camera is fixed when exploring dungeons and towns. At least there are no random encounters as enemies will appear in the field. You can initiate a battle by running up again them, but sometimes it is impossible to avoid when the paths are so narrow. The graphics has aged well thanks to the anime style and the bright color palette. The game’s dungeons aren’t too big but they are designed in such a way that it often uses up a lot of your time solving “puzzles”. These puzzles boil down to pushing the right levers and then there’s the backtracking required. The only saving grace is that once you have defeated the enemies in a dungeon, they do not reappear on the map unless you exit and re-enter that screen.

The story follows Yuri, who is soon joined by a noble lady from the castle, Estelle. This is a world where there is something called blastia. The energy that blastia provides is crucial to society. Yuri ends up trying to track down a blastia core thief, while Estelle accompanies him as she wants to find a knight named Flynn, whom Yuri knows. They leave the city and end up traveling the world with other characters joining them in the process. It’s atypical JRPG story but one that isn’t bad and has a lot of good comedic moments.

Events can be a bit dark sometimes, which is a surprise considering that most of the game is bright and colorful like a typical JRPG. Yuri does a few things that are clearly not the “right” thing to do, even though his actions can be justified. This leads to the group having to work out their differences. While this may sound painful, it’s done in a way that isn’t overbearing, although there are a lot of plot threads that doesn’t get resolved in the game. The Tales series also has something called skits, which are smaller optional cutscenes using 2D portraits. These are great in that they add a lot to the character development, and are usually scenes that might not have fitted in if it was a proper cutscene.

This is a huge game. The story alone has hours and hours of cutscenes, but it also boasts a huge number of sidequests. These sidequests are usually broken into many smaller parts spread out across the game, rather than one long chain that you can do immediately. The game is infamous for a lot of these sidequests to be easily missable, so you really need to follow a guide if you wanted to see everything. There is a tendency for the game to constantly shuffle your party members. They come and go as they please when the story dictates and this can be annoying. The game compensates for this somewhat with a large cast of playable characters.

You’ll often be short of money and to get all the equipment, you will need to have drops from monsters in order to “synthesize” them. However, this is part of the addictive nature of the game as weapons and certain other types of equipment will have skills attached to them. These are passive abilities that you can permanently equip onto your character once they have used the equipment in enough battles. In this way, you can load many abilities onto your characters to improve them. The game has free DLC that you can download and use. Some of them are nice, such as addition money and costumes, while others not so as they make the game too easy. Things such as increasing your levels tends to ruin the first playthrough experience if you’re not careful.

The final dungeon can be slightly annoying and confusing as they are some environmental puzzles where you need to hit several things to open up new paths. The different screens can start to blend in with each other thanks to the similar layouts and style. The final boss was also fine but just felt somewhat anticlimactic, especially once you defeated him and you expected a long ending scene. It covers off the immediate threat but if you were expecting a full-on epilogue or something long to see how the characters were afterwards (since there were pretty drastic consequences from the final battle), then you’ll be disappointed.

The game takes around 40 to 50 hours to get to the end so this is by no means a short game. All the optional scenes and activities can give you additional hours of content but a lot of them requires rampant backtracking. The postgame content consists of reused dungeons to defeat enemies with swapped color palettes, with some new bosses spread throughout. There is a New Game Plus where you can spend the “grade” you earned during the game (which roughly correlates with how well you’ve played the game) for additional bonuses and things to carry over.

Overall, Tales of Vesperia: Definitive Edition is a great game and a classic JRPG through and through with all the genre’s good and bad. The bright colorful anime aesthetics means that it has aged remarkably well while the fast paced combat system is a lot of fun. The combat mechanics are deeper than at first glance and while it is a bit rough to start with, evolves into a finetuned system. The same goes with the story which starts off a bit slow but eventually the characters are developed enough that you’d love each of their individual quirks.


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

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Friday, September 22, 2023

Cells at Work!! (2021)

Cells at Work!! is the second season based upon the manga series. It is a short season with only eight episodes. It has the unique premise of being an educational anime where it shows off how the body works in a fun way. It is supposed to be entertaining so that you don’t realize that you are learning. Knowing this, there are some awkward moments in its pacing. Given that no one part of the body looks after everything, you might think it will struggle to have an anchoring protagonist that will consistently be the focus. However, it does manage a good job at having a lot of screentime for White Blood Cell (U-1146).

The cells within the body are portrayed as normal looking humans (or as normal as you can get in an anime). The immune system and various parts of the body are shown as buildings and other familiar structures. The invasive germs, bacteria and viruses have a much more alien design. This gives it familiarity and you can tell at a glance what something is supposed to do without a huge chunk of additional exposition. There are still a lot of explanations via voiceovers, but the text has been reduced to a minimum so it is not as heavy as the first season.

Each episode deals with a particular event but most of the early story arcs only take up half the episode. This can make the events zip by too quickly. You tend to have to be already familiar with the symptoms for that particular story arc as it doesn’t give much explanation in that area. The story arcs usually boil down to having a foreign entity invade an organ, which triggers the immune system and the cells come in as reinforcements to expel the invaders. During the process, the viewers will probably learn something new about how the body reacts.

It is interesting to see from the “inside” perspective on how something we normally take for granted actually works. Things like vaccination, or a mosquito biting into the body to suck blood, all feel completely different when viewed from the other side. The anime retains the bright, vibrant, and colorful animation, where it makes everything look cute (particularly the platelets). It contrasts this with cute, happy, almost idealistic characters, giving them crazy weapons and personalities as they destroy invaders. There are violent bloody scenes where blood splatters everywhere as the characters madly hack into their enemies.

One thing that constantly strikes you during the season is how amazing it is with the many things that happen within the human body. So much work is involved to keep it running, and these processes run independently and autonomously. There are many external threats that attack the body and even just the simple act of eating something can cause such a big drama as the immune reacts to it. The second half of the season manages to have overarching events that span multiple episodes. It touches on both newer content, such as looking at the more beneficial bacteria that coexists and helps the body, to more familiar enemies like influenza that poses a significant threat to the characters.

The anime portrays the body’s successful immune responses that manage to extinguish the vast majority of threats without external help. Throughout some of the scenarios, you would expect external assistance given that things like cancer may not be successfully treated even with modern day treatments. It would have been interesting to see how external treatments work and the side effects that they would have on the body. This isn’t a huge deal as the anime currently is, it gives you hope that our bodies can handle things on their own.

Overall, despite having a short second season, Cells at Work!! is fun and very educational. The downside is that it can feel episodic at times with a lack of an anchoring protagonist. Red Blood Cell doesn’t have much presence this season, so it mostly focuses on White Blood Cell. This isn’t a bad thing, but he can have a one-track mind whose only goal is to kill all foreign organisms. The season is not as iconic or surprisingly good as the first season now that we know what to expect, but it is still a worthwhile watch.


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

Wednesday, September 20, 2023

Resogun (PS4)

Resogun is a side-scrolling shoot ‘em up, similar in spirit to the developer’s previous game series, Super Stardust, but slightly different. This is a pure arcade experience. The goal of each level is to survive and defeat all the enemies. Your ship can only move left or right, and thus can only shoot left or right. Enemies will swarm you in huge numbers so there are a few other abilities to improve your chances of survival. There is a bomb, which clears enemies from the entire field; there is an overdrive, which is a super attack that takes on the form of a plasma beam; and there is boost, which increases your ship’s speed allowing it to ram enemies. The bomb is limited by ammo, while the other two will slowly recharge after use.

There is an additional optional activity in each level, which plays into the backstory of the situation. You are in a combat simulation and are there to save humans. During the level, enemies that glow green, known as Keepers, will appear. By defeating these, it will free a human from their cage and you can then pick them up and save them by taking them to a safety point. Doing this will give you positive effects such as additional lives, bombs, shields, or points. It’s purely optional as you can still finish the level without saving any human.

This is a small game given that the single player mode only has five levels. Each level ends with a boss fight. The game can be challenging, although you can select how hard you’d want it to be given that there are four difficulties to choose from. There are three different ships, where each one has different parameters and attack patterns, so each of them plays a bit different compared to each other. One ship has a homing attack, while another can only shoot in a straight line, and the third shoots in a shotgun style.

On the standard or easier difficulty, you’ll be able to play through all the levels within two hours, which includes any retries if you died. As with a lot of this developer’s games, the fun comes from replaying each level as your skills improve to get higher and higher scores. The ending can come as abrupt since the final boss of the whole game feels just like the other bosses, and you were expecting the next stage to load up only to see the credits instead.

Once you’ve finished the five levels, there’s actually not much additional content outside of this single player mode. You can aim for a higher score, since it’s designed for you to try and beat all five levels in one go without dying. Thankfully, even if you do die, you can immediately retry that level and don’t have to start from the very beginning, which is very welcomed, especially on higher difficulties. The paid DLCs unlocks several new modes, and the game’s title screen teases these modes by showing them as options, only to ask you to buy the DLC when you try to play them.

The last thing to mention is that the graphics are great, especially in HDR thanks to all the flashy effects. Your shots, and the explosions that are caused when you kill an enemy, causes an impressive array of colors. Coupled with the fast paced soundtrack and smooth visuals, and this is a slick game that hooks you in as you get into the zone dodging all the projectiles and taking down everything in your path.

Overall, Resogun is a good game. The fast paced arcade styled gameplay is a perfect for a quick and fun experience. The biggest negative of the game is just how little content there is in the base game. It’s just five levels that you can easily finish within two hours in your first run, and even shorter in later ones as you improve your skills. Replaying the same levels can only keep your attention for so long, so if there were at least another five levels, that would have been great.


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

Wednesday, September 13, 2023

Stray (PS4)

Stray is a game where you play as a cat. It starts off introducing the cat that you’re going to be playing as, who is part of a group of four living in what looks like an overgrown abandoned set of ruins. The titular stray cat gets separated from the others and finds itself in a weird, abandoned city. At first you don’t know what happened, what this city is, or even when this game takes place. however, various hints are uncovered as the story progresses. The people that lived there seemed to have abandoned the city, living behind on the unusual machines and bugs to inhabit it.

The gameplay is simplistic. As a cat you can run and jump on surfaces, as well as push certain things around. A lot of the fun in the beginning is the novelty of playing as a cat but at its core, this game is too simple, and the controls can even feel clunky at times. For an indie game, it has impressive graphics. In particular, the design of the city perfectly captures how restrictive and claustrophobic it is. The addition of the large neon lights and signs add a cyberpunk atmosphere to the game that perfectly captures the abandoned nature of the city. The developers seemed to have realised that the smaller body of the cat may induce motion sickness to people who are prone to it, and so included an option to include a reticule.

The story is initially told via the visuals and environments, but eventually, you’ll come to see robots and then the dialogue appears. The dialogue bit can come off as disappointing as a unique aspect would be if it had managed to tell the story through visuals alone. The story itself is so so. It had all the ingredients to be an intriguing piece that is filled with the wonder of finding out what happened. Yet what happens in actuality is that you can soon piece together the history of the city and how it came to be in this state as it is something that has been done many times before. It’s a wasted opportunity.

After the novelty of playing as a cat wears off, the game becomes quite mundane as it boils down to some simple platforming and interactions with NPCs. There are some light puzzle solving, but these puzzles usually have obvious solutions. The biggest downside to the game is how the cat does not have any offensive abilities for a large portion of the game. This is understandable and would be fine if not for the fact that it has those sections where things will attack the cat, but there’s little you can do to defend yourself. It's annoying and the purpose of those sections is to make you feel the same panic as one would in that type of scenario, but it doesn’t translate into an enjoyable experience.

For a game with such a minimalist UI and gameplay, it does a good job at pointing you in the right direction. There are visual cues such as neon signs and lights that point to a specific direction. The level design is mainly linear, however, there is one part later in the game which is a bit more open with less guidance. You may get a tiny bit lost there at what you need to do in order to progress the story.

The game is very easy, with the combat and stealth sections being simple and obvious. It is weird how much the game changes when you compare the first half to the second half. The first half had a different one where it was more bleak, and you had these aggressive enemies threatening to devour the cat. Then in the second, it’s intense in a different way, as the enemy is now non-organic, and everything takes on a more processed, cold feel to it. The disappearance of one enemy type only to be replaced by another feels at odds with each other. The ending itself is predictable and it takes less than four hours to get to it, even in your first playthrough.

There are some sidequests throughout the game. These usually involving you finding some collectibles to return to an NPC. These sidequests are missable because if you progress too far into the story, you cannot return those areas unless you go via Chapter Select. It’s not a huge deal but it’s points like these that can make the game’s generic nature come to the forefront. There are also a bunch of optional things that the cat can do, such as meowing and scratching things, which adds to the atmosphere, rather than to the substance of the game.

Overall, Stray is an okay game. The biggest appeal is playing as a cat and seeing all the effort that has been put into its animations. After that surface level appeal has been satisfied, you can see that the game is overly simple and repetitive. The story is fine but despite not being too original, there are enough intriguing things to keep your interest in finding out more about it. the other impressive element of the game are the graphics given that this is an indie title, but that’s about all that the game has going for it. It’s still a worthwhile play, but just that it did not really utilize all of its potential.


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

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Friday, September 8, 2023

Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba - Season 2 (2021-22)

The second season of Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba is split into two arcs, Mugen Train and Entertainment District. The first arc, Mugen Train, is an expanded adaptation when compared to the movie, so even if you had seen the movie, there are new scenes here. This is particularly so for the first episode of the season, where it sets up the Flame Hashira, Rengoku, and what he was doing before he had boarded the Mugen Train and met the protagonists. Rengoku may be a bit strange at first but you’ll soon realize that he is a strong and honest man. The striking visuals and the rousing music perfectly set the tone for the rest of the second.

The anime is set in a world where there are demons prowling in the night. The three protagonists, Tanjiro, Zenitsu, and Inosuke, are part of the Demon Slayers Corp. Demons can only be permanently killed by severing their head by the neck as otherwise, they are able to rapidly regenerate. To make matters even more unfair, demons are usually physically stronger as well as having special abilities. It can be a somewhat scary premise and despite the amazing aesthetics and animation, this can be a violent anime with plenty of blood and severe physical injuries.

Upon the protagonists boarding the train and meeting up with Rengoku, they set about tracking down the demon that had been plaguing this train and killing many of its passengers. The arc is short at only seven episodes long and thus it boils down to a simplistic story. However, just like the first season, what elevates it is how it portrays the emotional aspect of the story. The two most prominent characters have their familiar bonds as a large part of them and this is what makes the viewer emotionally invested. Coupled with the fantastic fight scenes where the camera dynamically moves and the flashy combat visual effects, and this ends up being a very good anime to watch.

Another impressive aspect is how quickly Rengoku becomes a likeable character. He is weird at first, but he has this honest, upfront and genuine side of him where he doesn’t hide anything. He is kind and powerful, being a strong role model for the characters. He goes toe to toe with the strongest demon that the characters have encountered so far and is able to hold his own even amongst terrible odds. Even with all his power, he struggles against his opponent, and this is where it certainly feels unfair that the demons have so many advantages over humans.

The impact of the first arc is constantly felt in the second arc. Entertainment District introduces us to yet another Hashira, and he is very different to Rengoku. After the powerful performance of Rengoku, you would have high expectations of Uzui as well, in strength if not in personality. The arc moves quickly as the trio is quickly wrapped into trying to discover the demon lurking in the entertainment district. It might feel a bit too quick, considering that the trio ends up into a fight for their lives soon after trying to blend in with the population. This arc also has a simplistic story as it is dominated by fight scenes. These fights are punctuated by quick flashbacks to either reveal more of a character’s past or to shed light on their motivations. There is just enough story and future teases to keep it interesting.

Unlike a lot of anime protagonists, Tanjiro isn’t portrayed as overpowered or having main character superpowers. He is constantly in doubt about himself, which can be annoying but can be seen as humble and still being inexperienced. He is going to make it big but this season is about the journey he takes to get there. Tanjiro is still figuring out his abilities as up until now, he mainly utilized the water breathing technique but his natural affinity is to the Hinokami Kagura, a flame-based ability. He’s used it sparingly in the past given that it debilitates his body soon after using it. There’s a lot more than meets the eye to this technique as there are big teases into its history.

Tanjiro’s sister, Nezuko, is as interesting as Tanjiro himself. Despite being a demon, she is still on the side of the Demon Slayers, which has never happened before. Without devouring any humans, she still has incredible powers. She is often forgotten until the plot needs her to show off. Although, her current situation never felt adequately explained. She can change sizes at will (in order to fit into the small box that Tanjiro carries with him all the time), and she isn’t as sentient as the rest of the demons show. Just how much does she understand given that she never speaks? How much does she remember and is herself? None of these are clear to the viewer.

Somehow, despite the big climactic fight taking more than half the episodes in the second arc, it manages to keep escalating the situation without making it feel dragged out. The style the anime exhibits is something that we haven’t seen in a long time. The usual strong theme of family bond is in full display and due to the fate of previous characters, you are never one hundred percent sure that everyone will survive without harm. This keeps it tense and unexpected in many ways. The anime strikes a balance between having even a Hashira struggle against the enemy but at the same time not allowing Tanjiro to easily overcome that barrier to defeat the demon. Yet it also allows the teamwork to shine through between the three protagonists.

This was always an issue, but the anime is constantly flipping between a serious scene and then some slapstick humor. It is better handled this season but there are a lot of places where the mood whiplash is noticeable. Considering that some of the demons that Tanjiro faces are incredible threats, to have them collapse and bawl their eyes out just feels at odds with how they were portrayed just a moment ago. On the flipside, sometimes the scenes have so much happening, or that it is a such an epic sequence, that it can be hard to absorb everything in the first watching. Ultimately, the resolution of the arc is satisfying, and the end result is noted by several high ranking characters to have significant implications in the future as change has finally happened in the long battle between demon slayers and the demons.

Overall, the second season of Demon Slayer: Kimestsu no Yaiba is fantastic. It covers two arcs, and both are strong in their own way. The first is shorter with a seemingly more personal touch, while the second is longer and engaging in a different way. Both strikes hard in their emotional impact, and both should have lasting effects on Tanjiro and the others. The biggest negative is probably how light it can be on the worldbuilding and storytelling, as it feels that most of the time spent is in battle. Sure, these battles are flashy with heaps of style, and they are a lot of fun to watch, but a little bit more development in its worldbuilding wouldn’t be amiss either. However, this still ranks up there as one of the best anime to watch.


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

Wednesday, September 6, 2023

Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales (PS4)

Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales is a spin-off sequel to Marvel’s Spider-Man. This game stars Miles Morales and it is a smaller scaled game with a much shorter story. The first game showed how Miles gained his powers and then confiding to Peter about it. Here, in this game, he is already established as a second, younger, Spider-Man that the public knows about. The story is set up when Peter goes on vacation and thus Miles is the only Spider-Man looking after New York. Of course, it just so happens that Miles encounters a villain that he needs to stop.

The game plays near identically to the first game. Miles has plenty of acrobatic moves with the iconic web-slinging ability taking front and centre. The web-slinging is just as much as the original, and just as impressive. It’s so fun that you usually don’t use the fast travel and instead travel to your destination using the long way. Miles can easily climb and run on walls. The combat is a combo based system where you chain together attacks and moves. Spider-Man will automatically strike the closest enemy. His webs and other gadgets aid in combat.

Dodging plays a big part in the game as you constantly need to be moving. If you successfully perform a perfect dodge, you’ll stun the enemy and refill some of the bar that is needed to use his powers for. The biggest differentiator of Miles as Spider-Man is that he has Venom powers. These are special attacks that he uses his bio-electricity for. There is a light RPG touch to the game where Miles gains experience points as he beats his opponents, completes quests and does other things. He uses them to level up and gain skill points to unlock new skills and additional effects for his existing powers. As he progresses the story, he also unlocks new suits and new gadgets that he can use.

Finally, Spider-Man has a suite of stealth abilities although they’re not that varied. It doesn’t give you a ton of options, but they’re not a pitiful selection either. It’s something that meets you halfway as it isn’t a huge focus of the game. There are plenty of sections where it is designed to be cleared using stealth but if you cannot be bothered, or aren’t good at it, you can always try your luck at brute forcing it by fighting and knocking out all the opponents. This is usually the harder approach given that the enemy swarms and outnumbers you. The game has plenty of simple puzzles that usually just involves scanning the environment to see what items needs to be pulled. Even if you are stuck, you’ll get a hint from the characters within seconds.

Miles is younger than Peter and this plays out well in terms of the way he speaks and acts. This also affects how the game plays out since combat is flashier thanks to the Venom powers. Even though the combat is functionally identical, it feels more fun thanks to the focus on style. The music is also another area where it is similar to the first game but adds a unique twist to suit Miles. It’s surprisingly good and memorable. The track that plays when Miles is swinging in the city is suitable episode thanks to its mix of orchestral and electronic.

This is a short game and it shows in the story where the pacing is extremely fast. It is set piece after set piece, which ends up working well. It’s constantly exciting and the visual spectacles are a treat. The story is simple and predictable as it doesn’t even try to hide its reveals, although it still manages to be enjoyable as you watch Miles struggle to be Spider-Man. He has to go through the save things as Peter such as juggling both his personal and superhero responsibilities. The short nature of the game also means that you’re constantly leveling up and unlocking new abilities and perks.

It’s not so much an origin story for Miles rather than one that just explores his past and his current. We learn a lot more about him, his friends and the environment that he grew up in. The climax of the game keeps upping the pacing with some fun boss battles sprinkled throughout. Again, it is the visual spectacle of the game that really impresses you and while the game runs fine most of the time, it did chug in the finale. The main story is only around seven hours long but this can be seen as a positive as the game does not get stale or even come close to overstaying its welcome. After the story, you can free roam and finish off all the side activities as well as starting up a New Game+, which allows you to bring over all your unlocked abilities and gadgets.

There are plenty of sidequests in the open world of New York. There are the standard collectibles but there are also the scripted sidequests, which has more effort put in given that they have some story elements behind them. When traversing the city, it is easy to get distracted since you end up encountering these optional things so effortlessly and naturally, that it doesn’t feel like a chore when you complete it. It’s also refreshing to see the number of suits that you can unlock without it being locked behind DLC or microtransactions.

Overall, Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales is a fun and enjoyable short side game to the series. If you understand that it is supposed to be short and is not aiming to reinvent anything, then you will have a great game. The fast pacing, the small new additions, and the flashy visuals and choreography makes this game a blast to play. Unfortunately, these same factors also mean that the story will feel overly familiar as it doesn’t try anything new, but it is strong enough to provide an excuse to play the game and progress the story.


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

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