Thursday, March 26, 2015

Press Start: Megaman X Command Mission Review

Battle Networks forgotten, awkward younger brother.
Developers: Capcom Production Studio 3
Publishers: Capcom
Genre: RPG
Platforms: GameCube, Playstation 2

Well, this is a weird one. I considered doing a Gamer’s Frontier on this one, but honestly, I didn’t like it enough to consider it a hidden gem. That’s not to say it isn’t a good game, but it has some issues that prevent it from being a truly great game. Let’s find out why that is.

Story and Concept
As per usual, the fate of the world is in the hands of a ragtag group of weirdos. How come this keeps working?
In terms of the Megaman X canon, this takes place long after the events in the main series games. X and a small group of Maverick Hunters are sent to Giga City, an artificial island built to mine and smelt an advanced material known as Force Metal, to subdue a rebellion. When one of X’s fellow hunters betrays them, the rebellion leader, a Maverick named Epsilon, attacks and separates the group of Hunters. Separated from his friends, X has no choice but assemble his own resistance group of local Reploids to fight against the rebel army.

One of the bad guys, who's been trained for battle. How come these guys never win?
If you were confused by the above story introduction, then that’s probably because you’re not a Megaman X fan (that or I’m a terrible writer). This game is mostly meant for followers of the series, and I had to do a bit of research to get familiar with the in-game terminology. That said, the entry barrier is pretty low, and you can still enjoy this simple tale of good and evil without having played any previous Megaman X game. I also have to say that the original characters for this game are fairly interesting and enjoyable, and fit in with the Megaman X canon (at least with the little I know).

Graphic and Design
A bit rough around the edges, but still a solid looking game nonetheless.
For a PS2 game, Command Mission looks very good. The character models look very good, if not a bit jagged, and they mesh well with the chosen artstyle. It definitely looks like a Megaman game in 3D. The enemy design is also very good, with lots of colors and a good deal of creativity behind some of them. However, I do have to complain about the dungeons. They look very simple, and most times, it doesn’t deviate from being basic. While I think Command Mission is a fine looking game, it could use a bit more complexity in its dungeons.

Sound and Music

While I think the characters are well designed, I can’t say the same for their voicework. For the most part, its painfully mediocre, even underachieving in some places. The voice acting isn’t Arc Rise Fantasia level bad, but its not very good either. The music is pretty good though. The soundtrack is mostly electronic, and it has a decent collection of tunes that, while not as memorable as the main series Megaman X themes, are still pleasing to the ears. The sound in this game isn’t the greatest, but it does its job well enough to avoid being grating.

Sample battle.
Command Mission isn’t your typical Megaman X game. Rather than being a fast paced action platformer, its a turn based RPG. You control X and his allies as you explore dungeons, blast baddies for experience and zenny (in-game currency), and participate in good ol’ turned based combat. Sounds pretty standard, but there are a few combat mechanics that makes this stand out from your typical RPG (besides starring Megaman).

Sample battle. Sub-weapons can be triggered with either the Square or Circle button.
For starters, each party member can equip two sub-weapons, specialized attacks that consume Weapon Energy (basically MP). While weaker than your regular attack, these sub-weapons add an extra layer of strategy to battle. Party members can also equip Force Metal, which can do things like modify stats, add immunities and resistances, and can even allow for resurrections when killed by an enemy. While not the deepest customization system, sub-weapons and Force Metal add a lot to an otherwise simple combat system.

X's Action Trigger. In this case, you hold the X button and release for a powerful spreadshot.
Each party member also has access to a Hyper Mode and Action Trigger. Action Triggers are special attacks that require specific inputs (for Massimo, you mash buttons, for Marino, you spin reels, etc). Hyper Modes are special forms party members can temporarily take that increase their stats and, in some cases, give them new Action Triggers. Like Force Metal, these mechanics add a layer of strategy to the battle system, and they make the game feel very Megaman-y, especially the Hyper Modes.

Boss fights can take forever, even with their weakness exploited.
However, this game has some pretty big downfalls. For one thing, the dungeon design is less than impressive. They’re very linear and there’s not much incentive to explore unless you want every single item. The encounter rate is incredibly high, with fights triggered sometimes a few seconds seconds after you just won one. And while the combat system is fairly enjoyable, the boss fights are more tedious than they are challenging. All these things drag down the experience, but fortunately they do not overshadow the good.

Command Mission is not a bad game, but its shortcomings prevent it from being a great RPG. If you’re a Megaman X fan or if you’re a hardcore RPG enthusiast, then you’d probably like the game. If you aren’t, then you won’t be missing much if you skip it.

6.5/10 - Decent

Agree? Disagree? Feel free to leave a comment! Constructive criticism is always welcome.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Weapon of the Week

Aren't they the most adorable tools of total cataclysm? 

Franchise: Golden Sun
Appearances: Golden Sun, Golden Sun: The Lost Age, Golden Sun: Dark Dawn
Type: Sidekick/Power-up

Golden Sun is one of Nintendo’s forgotten franchises that I really wish they’d revisit. Sure, the writing wasn’t the best, but the games had creative worlds, great music, and amazing visuals. But what really makes me miss Golden Sun is the gameplay. Sure, on the surface, it looks likes your standard turn-based RPG- menu based combat, casting spells, defeating monsters for experience points, etc. However, one thing that truly makes Golden Sun stands out are adorable little spirits that can augment your characters abilities.

In Golden Sun, you control a group of youths that are able to use a special type of magic called psynergy. Using their minds, these youths, or adepts, can manipulate the four elements to do things like accelerate plant growth or create fireballs. Psynergy is used as in battle spells and to solve puzzles in the game’s dungeons. While most adepts can learn psynergy naturally, most of their power comes from elemental spirits that hide themselves all over the world: Djinn.

Djinn come in four varieties: Venus (earth), Mars (fire), Jupiter (wind), and Mercury (water). Djinn can be equipped by adepts once they are found. Depending on what Djinn the adept has equipped, his or stats can change dramatically and even learn new psynergy to use in battle. Djinn can also be used to activate unique psynergy, and if enough Djinn are on standby, they can pool their energy to perform powerful summon spells. Djinn are the greatest part of Golden Sun, as they allow for deep customization and a flexible battle system.

Next time, we’ll look at one of the most unlikely swords in video games. Until then, see ya.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Liberal Rant: Ted Cruz

Texas is a reliable red anchor, which makes me want to pull my hair out sometimes. In my head, most Texan politicians should be laughed out of the building, yet they are received with open arms and thunderous approval. This is especially the case with Ted Cruz; I thought he would be crushed in his senatorial race, but was elected by an enormous margin. He’s made several statements that should be mocked, but he’s now considered a major figure among hardcore conservatives.

And now he’s running for president. Wonderful.

But this isn’t a post about how Ted Cruz says stupid things. That is honestly a dead horse (or in this case a dead elephant). This isn’t about how Cruz is not a good candidate or that he has no chance of winning the nomination, let alone the presidency. Those dead horses are about to be beaten. This post is about how scary Ted Cruz is as a Republican force. He may just be a one term senator, but his goals make me cringe.

Cruz has openly said several times that he’s not only waging war against Democrats, but also against moderate Republicans. Those in the “mushy middle” (which is probably the dumbest term since “lamestream media”), according to him, are simply not conservative enough to make America the best it could be. He wants to win without the help of the moderates, as he sees them as destructive to the conservative cause. In other words, he wants to see the Republican party move further to the right.

The Republican party moving further right is a scary thought. For one thing, moderate Republicans are the ones getting things done in Congress. The grandstanding, political point scorers like Cruz are the ones blocking legislation and killing bills. Their moderate counterpoints, who are actually willing to work with Democrats on some things, are needed now more than ever. Moving further to the right means that the moderates will be wiped out, and that Congress will be more inactive and polarized than ever.

The Republican party veering further to the right also means a more destructive party mentality. Cruz and his allies are not interested in governing; they are interested in tearing things down. Cruz has already pledged himself to repealing Obamacare, and I doubt that’s not the only thing on his chopping block. The thing is we don’t need destroyers right now; rolling things back is the last thing we need. We need bipartisanship, and if Cruz succeeds in his bid to wipe out moderates, then that word is as good as gone.

Cruz is very unlikely to win, but him winning is not what I’m concerned with. I’m much more concerned with his bid to wipe the Republican middle, and the repercussions we’ll face if he succeeds.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Sentai Time! Engine Sentai Go-Onger

Pressing down the road of mediocrity.
Translation: Engine Squad Go-On Ranger
Number of Episodes: 50
Original Run: 2008-2009
Theme: Vehicle/Animal hybrids and technology
Adaptation: Power Rangers RPM

Welcome back to Sentai Time! This time, I’ll be reviewing Engine Sentai Go-Onger, and sadly, I’m more interested in tearing it down rather than praising it. Let’s get started.

The Concept
These guys literally fight pollution. Its exactly as existing as it sounds.

Our universe exists in 11 Braneworlds, alternate dimensions layer on top of each other. One such world is Engine World, populated by Engines, animal/vehicle hybrids that wage war against the Bankizoku Gaiark (translated as “Barbaric Machine Tribe Gaiark”). The Gaiark are chased out of Engine World and escape to Human World (Earth), and plan to pollute Earth to suit their race. To prevent this, several Engines travel to Human World and ally themselves with strong-willed humans, who borrow their power to become the Go-Ongers. Together they wish to stop the mechanical menace from dirtying the beautiful blue planet.

The Sentai
From left to right: Hanto, Ren, Sousuke, Saki, and Gunpei.

The Go-Ongers consist of Sousuke (Go-On Red), a fiery former auto racer, Ren (Go-On Blue), the encyclopedic cook and former bus driver, Saki (Go-On Yellow), an optimistic girl who dreams of opening her own sweets shop, Hanto (Go-On Green), an easily distractible job-hopper, and Gunpei (Go-On Black), a former cop with a tough guy facade. Each have a Engine partner, who are similar in personality and give the Go-Ongers their gear and powers.

Imagine this shoved into your face for 22 minutes at a time. Not very pleasant.

The sentai of Go-Onger is, quite frankly, annoying. Everything they do is preformed with this sort of cartoony energy, which makes nearly every action they perform over-the-top and obnoxious. I understand this is still Super Sentai, but the Kyoryugers managed to be energetic without causing migraines thanks to good (or at least better) writing and more subtle moments to break up the hyperactive moments. It also doesn’t help that the cast don’t make endearing characters: Sousuke is a hardheaded brat, Hanto is an annoying twit, and Gunpei is more of a jerk than a jerk with a heart of gold. This is a very weak sentai, and are about as deep as their merchandise.

The Villains
From left to right: Yogostein, Kegareshia, and Kitaneidas.
The Gaiark are made up of Yogostein, Kegareshia, and Kitaneidas, the Ministers of Land, Water, and Air Pollution respectively. They wish to pollute Human World so that their race can live in a filthy paradise. To do so, the Ministers create Bankijyu (or “Barbaric Machine Beasts”) to create havoc and dirty either the Earth’s land, water, or air. Alongside their Bankijyu, the Ministers command armies of junk soldiers and entire fleets of flying walker mechs.

This isn't an outlier; all the monsters look this stupid.
I dislike the Gaiark almost as much the Go-Ongers. The Ministers are terribly bland, and I have trouble naming character traits for them other than how they end their sentences. The Bankijyu are even worse. They are all based on machines found on Earth, and by based on, I mean they slapped some arms and legs on some machines and added goofy faces. The designs are lazy, and I found them far more stupid than threatening. The Gaiark have a decent concept behind them, but are drowning in either blandness or stupidity.

The Mecha
One of the better looking mechs, in my opinion.
The Engines are all animal/vehicle hybrids: for example, Sousuke’s Engine is Speedor, a racecar-condor combo. The individual Engines can combine into mecha to take down giant Bankijyu. In the thirteen episodes I’ve watched, there are three mechs: Engine-O (pictured), Ganbaru-O, and Engine-O G6 (a combination of Engine-O and Ganbaru-O).

This is Speedor. As you can see, he's going through a bit of an identity crisis.

While I did like the concept of a race of sentient vehicles that look like animals, I found the Engines to be just as flat and boring as the rest of the characters. They are often carbon copies of their human partner’s personalities, and it also doesn’t help that they have annoying verbal ticks of their own. The mecha they form are pretty awesome, however, and their theme songs make the fights epic, even if they are often one sided.

The Fights
How come the most annoying member of the cast gets the coolest weapon?
The fights are some of the few redeeming features of the show. They aren’t as impressive or as well choreographed as the fights in Kyoryuger or Shinkenger, and it may use shaky-cam a bit too much, but they are still very solid. One thing I have noticed, however, is that this series uses a lot of flashy effects, often more than the other Sentais I’ve mentioned. Still, the fights look impressive and do a decent job of showcasing the individual strengths of the individual Go-Ongers.

The Music

The music also saves the show from being terrible. The music is not only fun to listen too, but its also pretty darn catchy. I especially like the instrumental of the theme song, which gives off a mariachi/surfer vibe. In terms of music, I’d place Go-Onger between Kyoryuger and Shinkenger- not as good as the former, but more memorable than the latter.

The Engrish
They all wear jackets like this. Its quite painful.
I just had to bring this up. This show constantly abuses the English language by throwing in tons of English words into each episode. I know Sentai shows often feature engrish (even Shinkenger had it), but the frequency of which Go-Onger uses it is grating. Its hard to not roll your eyes whenever an English word is thrown into the middle of a sentence, and it just doesn’t stop. It feels more like “we’re cool too, guys!” rather than a stylistic choice.

The Verdict
I know Super Sentai is meant for kids, but that didn’t stop me from enjoying Kyoryuger and Shinkenger, mainly because it was competently made. Go-Onger may be lighthearted, but often its too hyperactive and in-your-face. The cast is largely forgettable and annoying, the villains are lame, and I often found myself stomaching it rather than enjoying it. I wouldn’t consider Go-Onger a good show, or even a good kids’ show.

4/10 - Below Average

That should do it. I’m preparing for my first Sentai movie review (Gaburincho of Music), as well as a followup for Shinkenger. Until then, see ya.

Magiranger is up next.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Weapon of the Week: Magic Hammer

Franchise: Legend of Zelda
Appearances: Hyrule Warriors
Type: Bludgeon

Hammers were actually used in medieval warfare, but they were more like halberds and were mainly used to smash armor. In the realm of fiction, however, warriors can use ridiculously large mallets and sledgehammers to smash their opponents to pieces. Hammers are even used in the famous Legend of Zelda series, though they are usually used to smash obstacles rather than enemy skulls. However, there is one character that takes this tool of dungeon exploration and turns it into an army massacring machine.

Hyrule Warriors is a crossover between The Legend of Zelda and Dynasty Warriors, and one of my favorite Wii U games. Here, Zelda characters from Ocarina of Time, Twilight Princess, and Skyward Sword team up to battle the hordes of darkness. It features Dynasty Warriors gameplay, with each character able to take down thousands of enemies with their own unique weaponry. Darunia, the chief of the Goron tribe, wields a giant hammer that he uses to plow through enemy ranks.

The hammer is one of my favorite weapons in the game. It has a ton of power behind each swing, and its basic combo can cut through tons of baddies at once. It also possesses the fire element, which allows the charge attacks to do things like create pools of lava, summon flaming boulders, and create explosions. Darunia’s hammer is one of the best weapons for crowd control, is and by far my favorite fire weapon.

Next time, we have another living weapon to talk about. Until then, see ya.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Press Start: Dynasty Warriors 8 Empires Review

In gaming and reviewing be like fire.

Developers: Omega Force
Publishers: Tecmo Koei
Genre: Hack and Slash, Strategy
Platforms: Playstation 3 (digital download), Playstation 4, Xbox One, PC

Back in December 2014, I put Dynasty Warriors 8 Empires on my Most Anticipated Games of 2015 list. Just recently, I downloaded a digital copy, and played enough of it to get a good idea of what the game is like. I figured since I put it on that list, it warranted a game review. This review will work much like my Gamer’s Frontier, with categories on concept, graphics, sound, and gameplay. Let’s get started!

Story and Concept
Your war room. Where you plot world domination.

The Dynasty Warriors franchise is loosely based on the novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms (which is loosely based on Chinese history). The games are retellings of the novels, which detail the Three Kingdoms period of China. The player takes control of one of many characters as you singlehandedly mow down entire armies alongside your comrades. DW8 Empires takes the characters of DW8 and replaces the usual story mode with Empire Mode, where the goal is world domination. Or rather, Chinese domination.

The character creation is amazing. I enjoyed creating my own army from scratch.

The absence of an overall story mode is actually a good thing, as it gives a whole lot more freedom to the player. You can play a normally benevolent character as a malicious jackass, or vice versa. You can be a tyrannical despot or a virtuous monarch. Its much like a create your own adventure game, where you can shape your own path alongside a cast of colorful characters. My only complaint is that the pre-set scenarios feel a bit restricted, but other than that, the concept is solid.

Graphics and Design
This scene doesn't look very good. Its awesome, but looks doesn't look good.

In an era with gorgeous games like The Order 1886, DW 8 Empires is pretty ugly by comparison. Its character models are fine, but its levels and backgrounds are very basic and unimpressive. This is understandable, as Musou games usually sacrifice graphical brilliance to maximize the number of troops on screen, and if having simple backgrounds is the price to pay, then I’m fine. However, one thing I can’t look past is how the frame rate drops consistently when the screen gets crowded. Its one thing to have a simple looking game, but its another when your console can’t run that simple looking game. I’ve only played the PS3 version, so I don’t know if its an issue across all platforms, but its still inexcusable regardless.

Sound and Music

A large part of the music of DW 8 Empires is lifted straight from Dynasty Warriors 8 and Dynasty Warriors 8 Xtreme Legends. As per usual for DW games, it consists of contemporary rock with the occasion Chinese instrument thrown in. Despite how anachronistic the soundtrack is, its still a stellar line-up of killer tracks. Each one is a great instrumental, and gets your blood pumping like nothing else. However, I have to mention that this game has no English voice acting, and that every word of dialogue is spoken in Japanese. While I was never a fan of DW’s dubs, having no English dub is a hindrance, especially when the print you read is so tiny.

Zhou Tai proving that numbers don't matter.
DW 8 Empires features the same combat system of DW 8. It involves the player using both normal and charge attacks to decimate enemy armies with a huge variety of weapons and special Musou Attacks. It also features the return of Rage Attacks, where all your combat parameters are boosted, and the rock-paper-system of weapon supremacy. Empires throws in two new gameplay features: stratagems, special powers that can things from healing allies to setting up turrets, and bases, special places on the map that can augment your forces in a variety of ways.

A sample strategy session. These can take up a most of the game, believe it or not.

A good deal of the game takes place outside of battle. Here, you can manage your own kingdom by constructing new buildings, cementing alliances, improving friendship among your ranks, and recruiting new officers to your cause. If you don’t want to play the ruler, you can still play as an officer under a ruler and work your way up or play as an independent officer and go on your own journey. Players can even arrange political marriages to keep the peace.

Riding horses, kicking ass, and taking names. Just another day in the Musou franchise.

Its just as fun to mow down armies in this game, especially with the officers you yourself created. However, there a number of issues. For one, the combat feels restricted from past titles, as its much harder to fill up your Rage and Musou gages, which is what made the combat in Dynasty Warriors 8 so fun. Another is that stratagems, outside the large scale ones, don’t seem to do much to effect the battle. I went entire battles without using a single stratagem and I still crush the opponent. While battles are still mindless fun, it seems rather stripped down from previous installments.

"Who says a woman has to be week?" indeed...

Surprisingly, my favorite part of the game was managing my kingdom. I actually had fun giving my subordinates orders about how they should their own territories and expanding my empire through conquest and alliances. However my biggest complaint about the management is that its pretty shallow. It only seems to scratch the surface of how strategic this game could be. I felt that the strategy could have been a whole lot deeper: like you could redistrict your kingdom or build multiple armies or develop your domestic economy. Honestly, the strategy sessions feel like a stripped down version of Nobunaga’s Ambition, a series I actually like.

I’m honestly disappointed by this game. Yes, its fun to destroy entire armies with a simple combo, and yes, managing your kingdom is enjoyable, but the whole experience feels barebones. Its still enjoyable if you’re a Musou fan, but its not one of the better titles of the series.

6.5/10 - Decent

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Mechanime Update: Nobunaga the Fool (again)

This anime doesn't fool around!
...Sorry, that was awful.

Time to come back to my favorite mecha anime thus far. I’ve watched episodes 13 through 18, and I have quite a bit to say. Let’s get started with-

The New Opening

From episode 14 onward, the opening used is JAM Project’s “Breakthrough.” The new opening is a great song through and through. The way it builds intensity makes it a real treat to listen too, and the visuals that accompany it makes it a far better opening than “Fool the World”. It fits the changing tone (and the tone in general) very well. “Breakthrough” isn’t the best opening I’ve listened to, but its up there.

Go East, Young Nobunaga
This is Julius Caesar. He killed Shingen from behind, framed Nobunaga, and forced a marriage between him and Ichihime. Yeah, I'm not a fan.
The universe of NtF is split into two stars: East, with people from Sengoku Japan, and West, with people from all across western history. The Western star is not depicted in a flattering light; they take hostages, kill civilians, engage in unhonorable tactics, torture their captives, and live by “the ends justify the means”. They’re clearly the bad guys, which is weird, since real world Sengoku figures did all of the above.

Now I can get behind a conflict of ideals, like the East losing a battle because they use more “honorable” tactics, or the West losing a battle because their scare tactics actually galvanized their opponents. But when one side is painted as evil because they have different ideals, it devolves into a simple battle of good vs evil. Its not a huge deal, but its a fault I can’t really ignore, especially when I’ve praised NtF for its great writing.

Speaking of Nobunaga…
Only character development can turn a impulsive jerk into a leader. Order now!
I love when characters develop well, and this anime is filled with some great examples of character development. Probably the best case is Nobunaga himself. In the beginning, he was brash, impulsive, and couldn’t give a rat’s ass about anything. Now, he’s much more serious and even a responsible leader. It even bothers him when some Western generals call him the “destroyer king.” Nobunaga isn’t my favorite character of the anime, but his journey as a character is great.

Not Your Average Gundam
This is just a taste of how awesome the mechs get.
I just touched on the mecha design in my original review, but now I really have to praise it here. The mechas not only look really ornate and menacing, but they’re surprisingly varied. From Alexander’s juggernaut looking War Armor to Kenshin’s Hindu-inspired one, each one looks terrific. As the series goes on, I am more and more impressed with how epic the mechs look, especially when they use their Regalia.

The Cherry Blossoms Still Aren’t Blooming
What really sucks is that I like Himiko, and this behavior of hers is really annoying.
I don’t mind romance as long as its well written or genuine. But despite all of the areas were NtF succeeds, it fails in the romance department. There are two romances in this anime: a love triangle between Mitsuhide, Ichihime, and Caesar, and another between Jeanne, Himiko, and Nobunaga. Sadly, neither one is very compelling or endearing, and when they surfaced, I was more bored than anything. As the series progresses, these romances are pushed further into the limelight, which makes me cautious about how future episodes will handle them.

BTW, War Sucks.
The deaths only get more brutal from here.
This anime can be pretty brutal sometimes. Like how Jeanne is mentally abused by Western generals so she would denounce Nobunaga as the savior king. Or how Jeanne’s entire hometown, which she tried to protect, gets vaporized, leaving no survivors. Or how Alexander rips Hideyoshi’s mech in half, leaving him mortally wounded. As the series goes on, these incidents get more and more common. This shift in tone is done very well, and feels genuine rather than forced.

Alright, that should do it. See you next time!

This moment makes sense in a zen sorta way.