Monday, August 27, 2012

Top 5 Legend of Zelda Enemy Designs

I think I have made it pretty clear by now just how big a fan I am of the Legend of Zelda series. There are only a handful of other video game series that I feel are as consistently good as Zelda, and one of the things that I love most about it is the fact that each game perpetuates a sense of "everything old is new again". Sure, there are familiar plot points and characters, but they are portrayed in a new light with each additional game. One of my favorite examples of this approach comes in the form of the many enemies that populate Hyrule and its neighboring nations. For this list I am not necessarily identifying my favorite enemies in particular, but rather my favorite versions of said enemies. Keep in mind that this list is limited to standard enemies, and that bosses and mini-bosses are not eligible.

#5 - Poes (Ocarina of Time): Poes are generally few and far between in Ocarina of Time, save for the Big Poes that litter Hyrule Field after Link becomes an adult. The place you first encounter them is the Kakariko Village graveyard. They aren't too difficult to dispatch, as long as you are patient and wait for them to show themselves to you. There have been a number of radically different versions of Poes since, but the idea of a cloaked phantom carrying a lantern is just so classic and perfect. They disappear just to mess with you, and fighting them is as much about them toying with you as it is about you quelling their torment.

#4 - ReDeads (Wind Waker): When I first played Ocarina of Time, I was eight years old, and the ReDeads scared the crap out of me. Every incarnation of the ReDeads since has put me on edge, simply because I know that as soon as they begin wailing, I need to mash the controller as fast as possible to avoid them humping and choking the life out of me. For 1998, the Ocarina of Time ReDeads are way creepy. But the Wind Waker ReDeads are so much cooler looking with their tribal African earrings and disproportionate bodies. They appear to be wooden and are a pale navy color, which adds an air of mystery about them. Are these ReDeads actually undead or are they some sort of possessed dolls?

#3 - Shadow Beasts (Twilight Princess): As I have mentioned before, I wasn't as much a fan of Twilight Princess as I was of most other Zelda games. But it does present a number of pretty realistic enemy designs. The Stalfos look like actual skeletons, the Poes look like scythe-wielding dolls, and the ReDeads look like mummies. All of these are interesting enough to look at, but the real winner for me has to be the Shadow Beasts. In truth, their story is quite sad, considering Zant transformed his own people to serve him as monsters. But they are so alien and weird with those tendrils that hang down like hair and the stone helmets - they are one of the most bold and artistically inspired new enemies to grace the series in a long while. I know they aren't that difficult to defeat, but I still have a soft spot for them.

#2 - Darknut (Wind Waker): There are actually quite a few enemy designs that I love in Wind Waker, and it was a bit difficult to narrow the list. But easily my favorite from that game are the Darknuts. The Darknuts have always been presented as classically trained knights, though their physical forms are often shrouded in mystery - like the Twilight Princess versions, for example, whose armor falls off only to reveal chainmail covering every inch of their body, and masks over their faces. But in Wind Waker you get to see them as wolf men, which I assume is due in part to the fact that Wolfos were left out of the game, and thus Nintendo used them as inspiration for this vastly different approach to the knight look. It's very fitting actually, as the Darknuts prove the most honorable fighters in the game. They never spam randomly or sneak up behind you. They are always waiting for you to make the first move, and will continue to fight intelligently even when their sword or chestplate is lost. And their armor looks super cool to boot - my personal favorite being the crimson armor set with the cape, as worn by the Darknuts you face immediately before fighting Puppet Ganon.

#1 - Stalfos (Skyward Sword): Without a doubt, my favorite enemy across all the Zelda games has to be the Stalfos. A skeleton soldier - it's such a simple yet perfect inclusion to the series medieval fantasy motif. Where the Skyward Sword Stalfos differ so greatly from Stalfos in other games is in both their physical design and combat style. Most other games portray Stalfos as being roughly the same height as Link, but the ones in Skyward Sword tower over him and carry massive swords. And since they both attack and block with those swords, Link has to be careful and accurate with his own Master Sword when striking back. They are only so many times over the course of Skyward Sword that Link encounters Stalfos, but each is intense and thoroughly enjoyable.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Xbox 360 review: Transformers: Fall of Cybertron

A few years ago, Transformers: War for Cybertron proved itself a force to be reckoned with as one of those rare games based of a television series that actually proved to be good. Though it was a Transformers story, it was not directly tied to the Michael Bay films, comic books, or any of the number of animated series. It was a new take on the early days of the war between the Autobots and Decepticons, and explained both how Megatron rose to lead a full-scale rebellion and how Optimus became the last Prime. War for Cybertron ended with plenty of story yet to be told, and so Fall of Cybertron picks up almost immediately thereafter. With the Autobots losing the war for their home planet and Energon resources nearly depleted, Optimus has commissioned the construction of the Ark - a vessel that will take them to a new home among the stars. But Megatron intends to destroy all of the remaining Autobots, and so the final days of the war prove a desperate struggle between the two factions.

Whereas War for Cybertron allowed players to choose from one of three characters in each level, Fall of Cybertron pre-designates them. There is only one playable character available at a time, due to their specific abilities and how they will be used in each level, and because of this cooperative multiplayer has been removed from the campaign. The first game played like a third-person shooter nearly the entire way through, but Fall of Cybertron adds in some new ways to traverse environments. As Cliffjumper, a cloaking ability allows you to sneak past enemies entirely. As Jazz, you can use a grappling hook to climb to higher areas and gain a tactical advantage. Meanwhile, Grimlock and Bruticus take part in missions that are focused entirely on destroying every bot and building in their way. Grimlock has a rage meter that builds up as he kills Insecticons, and when it fills he can transform into his signature Dinobot mode. Bruticus' missions, on the other hand, are shorter and more straightforward, with objectives being to destroy a few key structures before his health is depleted.

The developers seem to have taken a few notes from Michael Bay when designing the first few campaign missions, as you encounter increasingly larger things to blow up in spectacular fashion. Of perhaps the most noteworthy mention with regards to this is Metroplex, a gargantuan ancient Transformer who awakens to aid Optimus and the other Autobots at a crucial point in defending the Ark against waves of Decepticons. Because he is left with few options to ensure the safety of his fellow Autobots, Optimus' desperation brings out side of his character that is less often seen. In fact, the development of most of the cast of Fall of Cybertron is handled wonderfully. Though the campaign only lasts around ten hours, you get to see the strategic team-based approach that the Combaticons put forth, the struggle within Grimlock to find out what has happened to him in a new and unfamiliar body, and the flashy looks and careful approach Jazz takes to battle.

One aspect that made War for Cybertron feel like such a breath of fresh air to the franchise was that it drew inspiration from nearly every other Transformers work before it, but still managed to find originality in its telling of the origin story. With Fall of Cybertron, the inspirations for characters vary quite nicely - Cliffjumper looks the part of his Prime counterpart, Bruticus' design is heavily influence by his Generation 2 appearance, and Grimlock's robot mode is a cross between his Animated and Classic designs. However, the story directly borrows plot points from the original 1984 series, going so far as to include lines of cheesy dialogue. The second half of the campaign does more to evoke nostalgic memories than it does to create a stronger story.

Dialogue aside, the voice acting is quite good across the board. Each actor manages to capture the essence of they are playing in a way that makes them universally recognizable. It would have been nice, however to hear some more spoken lines from the Decepticon camp. The Combaticons earn a fair amount of time in the spotlight, but veterans Soundwave and Starscream get pushed to the backburners so that the story can focus more on the Optimus vs. Megatron struggle. Soundwave's static voice and Starscream's bragging are easier on the ears than Megatron's constant yelling.

The Unreal Engine is certainly showing its age, as textures often take a moment to fully load in. The metallic look meant to cover the exterior armor of each Transformer ironically looks like plastic on screen. On the other hand, the environments are not only larger, but also much more brightly colored and heavily detailed than in the previous game, and weather elements add a bit more realism to the planet of Cybertron.

As with the first game, Fall of Cybertron allows players to carry only two weapons at a time, color-coding them as light weapons and heavy weapons. More weapons - as well as permanent character upgrades - can be purchased for campaign use from the Teletran 1 store in any given mission. Grenades have been removed entirely, though heat-seeking mines remain as an equipment item alongside a health regenerator, speed boost, and damage upgrade. These equipment items are few and far between in the campaign, but can prove quite useful in turning the tide of a multiplayer match and are downright invaluable in Escalation mode.

The number of weapons at your disposal is roughly the same as in War for Cybertron, though they are more widely varied this time around. Some, like the Gear Shredder, are a bit unorthodox but a lot of fun to use and a welcome aid against the smarter enemy AI. A few of the returning abilities are put to better use, such as Hover, which now allows you to follow up with a powerful slam into the ground, knocking enemies flat on their backs for a moment or two. As a whole, Fall of Cybertron is a more challenging game than its predecessor, but is also host to a better scaling of difficulty. There are only a few boss fights throughout the campaign, and while none prove as memorable as War for Cybertron's fight against Trypticon, they are nowhere near as ridiculously challenging.

The mulitplayer side of things remains largely unchanged, which is just as well, considering how great a job High Moon did with it in the first place. Leveling up progresses at a fast rate, since experience points can be earned from non-combat actions as well, like healing allies and travelling long distances in vehicle mode. Bonuses like multi-kills and killing a set number of enemies without using any sort of zoom can also rack up your score more quickly. Abilities can be used while you are still on the move, so running and cloaking as the Infiltrator is no problem. Gone is the repair beam, as the Scientist class doubles as a medic with their default ability allowing them to heal teammates. The degree of customization has also been improved, as you can select from a myriad of heads, vehicle forms, arms, shoulders, legs, and color schemes. You are able to unlock these at your leisure, so long as you have earned enough points in multiplayer to afford them.

Escalation mode has seen a few tweaks. There are only four characters to choose from at the outset, so if you don't get the ability you wanted with one character, you're out of luck. However, the greater range of weapons in each stage sort of balances this drawback. Enemy waves progress at a logical rate, and each stage is set up with a central room with others branching off from it, instead of stacking upwards like some of the War for Cybertron maps did. Upgrade stations will only grant you your desired weapons, ammo, or health if you have the correct amount on the spot, which prevents teammates from stealing the rewards of your hard-earned kills.

Fall of Cybertron is a worthy follow-up to what is easily one of the most interesting Transformers stories to date. There are some significant changes to the way this sequel handles, but nearly all of them are for the better. The story is a bit rough around the edges, but still decent as a whole. It's great to see the new characters get their time in the spotlight, but at the end of the day there's no better matchup than that of Optimus and Megatron.

My rating: 8.5 (out of 10)

Friday, August 24, 2012

DLC review: Fallout: New Vegas - Old World Blues

After receiving yet another radio broadcast, you find yourself drawn to a drive-in movie theater where a satellite seems to have crashed. A brief interaction with it, and you are whisked away to Big Mountain, an old research facility from the pre-war era that has apparently been forgotten. Sometime between your disappearance from the Mojave and your arrival at Big Mt., your brain, heart, and spine were removed in the name of science. How are you made aware of this? Because the first individuals you encounter are the five scientists responsible for your body being partially dissected.

These scientists - or rather, what is left of them, as they are effectively brains in jars with monitors for faces - make for an oddball group. The de facto leader of the group is Dr. Klein, who wishes to impress you with his vast scientific knowledge - which is curious, since he views your lack of a human brain as equivalent to you being an animal. Dr. Borous spends much of his time reminiscing on his high school days and is paranoid that you might be a commie like so many of his former classmates. Absent-minded Dr. O forgets where he places things as frequently as he forgets what he is talking about, while 8 is incapable of producing anything other than static due to an accident. Finally , Dr. Dala seems the most invested in your body's current state, but not because she has any genuine care for your well being. She is obsessed with the movements and functions of the human form, and comes across as equal parts creepy and horny.

The whole experience carries a 1950s/1960s sci-fi B-movie vibe about it, with the goal being to upgrade the central Think Tank's facilities in order to fight back against the evil Dr. Mobius. As you explore the different laboratories around Big Mt. you will encounter robo-scorpions, a school where cybernetic dogs patrol the hallways, and artillery test sites, to name but a few. Travelling from one spot to another may lead to a run-in with enemies like Nightstalkers, animated corpses wearing Y-17 trauma override harnesses, and other hostile lobotomites. At times, these enemies will spawn with no apparent rhyme or reason, and can easily overwhelm you if you are not carrying sufficient aid supplies.

Conversely, there are a few new toys you can pick up in Big Mt. that prove rather useful. At the outset, you gain two guns - one that is a sonic emitter, and the other that is a heavy repeating machine gun with the brain of a dog attached to it. The former proves invaluable against the variety of robots crawling about the region, and can be upgraded with new audio clips as you find them. There is also a stealth suit waiting to be discovered in one of the labs that not only helps you avoid detection, but will also heal your wounds as you take damage in the midst of battle. The suit will talk to you on occasion, indicating that there are enemies nearby or that the area is now safe. The only downside is that the suit has a rare tendency to waste medical supplies - it is smart with staggering the use of stimpacks, but will sometimes burn through Med-X faster than need be.

The curious cast of characters does not stop with the five scientists. Adjacent to the Think Tank is The Sink, another area that acts as part of the core of Big Mountain. Therein, you will find an eclectic cast of appliances that require upgrading. Muggy is a pint-sized Securitron who is painfully aware of his usefulness as he is programmed for the sole purpose of cleaning coffee mugs for scientists who no longer have bodies. Two flirtatious female light switches are seemingly jealous of one another, while the toaster believes he will one day be capable of burning up everyone on the planet. There is even a book chute who has taken up the task of collecting texts from before the war and wiping their pages clean in order to maintain an Orwellian order. Upgrading this amusing lot proves somewhat tedious and mundane, however, as each item retrieved requires you to find a few more items, which requires you to find a few more items. And since none of these items are ever in particularly close proximity to one another, the process wears quickly. Even the optional quests have you running in circles, which quickly becomes more annoying than fun.

By the time you've concluded your adventures in Big Mt., you'll have acquired a few new perks and weapons to bring back to the Mojave. The main questline only runs a couple of hours, and it is nice to see that Bethesda included some sidequests beyond it. However, the whole experience is more about style than substance, and Old World Blues feels like a missed opportunity in more ways than one.

My rating: 7 (out of 10)*

*(rating applies solely to downloadable content, not its inclusion with the content on the original game disc or other downloadable content)

Monday, August 20, 2012

DLC review: Fallout: New Vegas - Honest Hearts

After picking up a radio broadcast asking for help promoting a caravan company in distant regions, the North Passage becomes accessible, wherein you will meet a small group headed out to Zion National Park in the hopes of promoting trade with a new market. At the outset of your journey, you are only allowed a set number of pounds worth of items that you are able to carry with you. This number can be slightly higher if your stats allow for it, but before you even set foot inside Zion, you will have to think carefully about which items you bring along. Should you choose to leave most of your medical supplies behind, you can live off the fat of the land as there is an abundance of plant life to heal with. The enemy types you encounter are much more limited than in the Mojave, lending to the overall straightforward path the Honest Hearts DLC sets you on.

Upon arriving in Zion National Park, the caravan party you are travelling with is ambushed by savage White Leg tribals. Once you are the only survivor, Follows-Chalk, a member of the Dead Horses tribe, comes to your rescue and explains there are two men like you - men who came from outside of Zion - and that one of them, Joshua Graham, would like to speak with you. As it turns out, Joshua was once a high-ranking officer in Ceaser's Legion, but was set on fire and thrown into the Grand Canyon. How exactly he survived is never made clear, but he was bandaged up, moved to Zion, and fell in good favor with the Dead Horses tribe. Similarly, a man named David found himself welcome among the tribals known as The Sorrows.

Follows-Chalk is one of the first friendly characters you encounter upon entering Zion, and serves as your companion as you explore the area and complete quests. He is far more talkative than the other companions from the main game (none of whom are allowed to accompany you here), but his quips make the Dead Horse culture seem a bit more rich and believable. The same goes for Waking Cloud, a proud female Sorrow who accompanies you during the second leg of your quest to save Zion. Joshua is perhaps the most deep and well thought-out of the small cast in Honest Hearts. He constantly references scripture and though he and Daniel seek a similar goal, their means of reaching it could not be more different.

The creative staff has done the best they can with the graphical limitations of Fallout: New Vegas, using colorful palettes and lighting effects that dance off the rock walls of Zion National Park. The world is designed as a sort of staggered series of cliffs and valleys, with one large river running through the middle. Even when you cannot see it, the slopes make it fairly obvious where you are in relation to the river, and its centralized location makes it incredibly difficult to get lost. Even so, the fact that the entirety of Zion is made up of this series of brown rock formations causes the surroundings to get boring to look at near the final stretch. This is not aided by the fact that all of the indoor locations are simple caves and ranger stations. But the visuals don't feel stale for too long, as the main quest only runs a few hours in length.

My rating: 8 (out of 10)*

*(rating applies solely to downloadable content, not its inclusion with the content on the original game disc or other downloadable content)

Xbox 360 review: Fallout: New Vegas

Following the success of Bethesda's revival of the post-apocalyptic franchise in the form of Fallout 3, Fallout: New Vegas carries on much of the legacy, adding in a few new gameplay features as well as a somewhat different approach to the layout of the world. This time around, the story follows a courier who has been tasked with delivering a platinum poker chip to one of the Mojave's VIPs. Unfortunately, the Courier has a run-in with a rather unfriendly New Vegas thug named Benny, who shoots and buries him in a small town graveyard. Miraculously, the Courier survives and - following a series of optional tutorial tasks in the town of Goodsprings - sets out to unravel the mysteries surrounding Benny and the Platinum Chip.

It becomes quite apparent early on that the Platinum Chip is of great value to a number of the major factions of the Mojave. Despite its appearance, the Platinum Chip is embedded with hardware that allows it to interact with certain computers, and it has the potential to turn the tide of the long-running struggle between the New California Republic and Caesar's Legion over control of the Mojave. The element of making decisions that influence your karma is still present in New Vegas, though it is not as important a factor as in Fallout 3. Instead, making alliances and enemies is key. Aiding certain factions will open up some quests while barring access to others, and it is impossible to be on everyone's good side at any given time. You will have to think carefully about which paths you wish to take, though this presents a huge element of freedom, as no two playthroughs will be quite the same.

In fact, the freedom to do whatever you want is what makes New Vegas so much more accessible than its predecessor. Whereas Fallout 3 started you off in a vault and then sent you on a path through the Capital Wasteland - an area largely designed around ruined buildings, empty streets, and narrow subway tunnels - Fallout: New Vegas allows you to have your run of the desert, every one of its vast open expanses ready to be explored. Granted, there are some areas home to wildlife and enemies that require some leveling up before you can hold your own against them. But the sidequests feel less like a required means of boosting EXP in order to progress further in the main game, and more like the developers put thoughtful care behind nearly each and every one.

Because New Vegas still has electricity and clean water, it is much easier to find fresh food. This in turn decreases the likelihood that the Courier will receive radiation poisoning. The variety of enemies also differs from those in Fallout 3. Instead of facing down the hulking super mutants time and time again, the Courier will have more frequent run-ins with the mutated wildlife of Nightstalkers and Cazadors, as well as groups of Fiends, Powder Gangers, and whatever factions you choose to align yourself against. Leveling up progresses in the same manner, and a number of perks - including bloody mess, better critical hits, and earning experience points at a slightly faster rate - are retained. Some perks will be earned over time based on repeated behavior, such as a higher damage against specific enemies after you have killed enough of them.

Unlike Fallout 3, New Vegas does not opt for major focus on one single story. True, the game follows the Courier from start to finish, but it takes on a multi-layered approach, shaping the different factions and exploring their investment in the treasures of the Mojave. The more time you spend getting to know these groups, the more rewarding the experience will be. That said, the original plot point concerning Benny builds up for the better portion of the first half of the game, but never reaches the boiling point one might hope for. Each ending to his story ends up feeling lackluster in comparison to the choices made regarding the NCR, Caesar's Legion, or Mr. House.

The atmosphere is top-notch, and the team behind New Vegas really captured the essence of the American west and found a way to perfectly balance it with a retro future setting. Beyond the Elvis impersonators, strippers, and casino thugs that line the streets of New Vegas, there are plenty cowboy-themed characters, farmsteads, campgrounds, and mines scattered across the Mojave to keep the exploration side of things interesting. While you visit them, you can tune your Pip-Boy to a few radio stations that play the music of Dean Martin, Kay Kyser, Marty Robbins, Guy Mitchell, and more.

The voice actors put forth quite a performance, too. Matthew Perry does well in his portrayal of Benny, but the companion characters are the ones who often steal the spotlight. Lily is a Super Mutant who was once an old lady, and thus expresses many grandmotherly tendencies. Danny Trejo voices Raul, a ghoul who is handy at repairing your equipment, but could often care less to jump feet first into a tense situation. Felicia Day lends her voice to Veronica, a young member of the Brotherhood of Steel who provides you with a plethora of information (and opinions) regarding the various factions in the Mojave. Even Rex, the cybernetic dog who does little more than bark, adds a little personality to your company.

Fallout: New Vegas is not the prettiest game current-gen consoles have to offer. Some textures will take a moment or two to pop, and though character models move fluidly, their facial expressions are limited. But with everything else that New Vegas does well, it's easy to look past the visual shortcomings. There's a whole lot to explore in the Mojave, and no matter how you choose to approach it, know that you will have blast doing so.

My rating: 8.75 (out of 10)

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Transformers: Fall of Cybertron launch trailer

Only three days left before Transformers: Fall of Cybertron hits store shelves! In case you were not already aware, I'm pretty darn excited to play it. Here is the launch trailer to tide you fellow Transformers fans over through the weekend.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Pokémon Black and White 2 Discovery Trailer

This recently-released trailer for Pokémon Black and White 2 highlights some of the new additions and story elements. It would appear that players will not only be able to face off against the gym leaders from the first Black and White games, but can also challenge gym those from previous generations, like Misty. Also, it seems that we have not heard the last of either Team Plasma or N, as the Plasma grunts have a new wardrobe and N is shown confronting Ghetsis. Only two months left until this hits shelves stateside!

Friday, August 3, 2012

Project Gundam - The Final Five

It's been more than two years since I first posted about my intentions to view every Gundam series, film, and OVA ever made. And during those past two years, I've covered a fair amount of ground. At present, the complete list of Gundam anime I have viewed includes the following:

- Mobile Suit Gundam: 08th MS Team
- MS Igloo: The Hidden One Year War
- MS Igloo: Apocalypse 0079
- Mobile Suit Gundam 0080: War in the Pocket
- Mobile Suit Gundam 0083: Stardust Memory
- Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam
- Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam: A New Translation
- Mobile Suit Gundam: Char's Counterattack
- Mobile Suit Gundam F91
- Mobile Fighter G Gundam
- Mobile Suit Gundam Wing
- Mobile Suit Gundam Wing: Endless Waltz
- After War Gundam X
- Turn A Gundam
- Mobile Suit Gundam SEED
- Mobile Suit Gundam SEED Destiny
- Mobile Suit Gundam SEED Astray MSV
- Mobile Suit Gundam SEED Stargazer
- Mobile Suit Gundam 00
- Mobile Suit Gundam 00: Awakening of the Trailblazer

Which, of course, leaves me with the following:

- Mobile Suit Gundam
- MS IGLOO 2: Gravity of the Battlefront
- Mobile Suit ZZ Gundam
- Mobile Suit Gundam Unicorn
- Mobile Suit Victory Gundam

I will probably watch MS IGLOO 2 some rainy day when I'm bored. The other two MS IGLOO entries did not take long at all to get through, and I imagine this sequel will be no different. Ultimately, I will probably finish viewing Unicorn last, simply because the release date for the seventh episode has the series wrapping up in spring of 2013. Currently, I am working my way through Victory Gundam, and while I can't say for certain when I will complete it, I would guess sometime in the range of late September to early October, assuming I take some breaks to view other anime.

Follwoing Victory Gundam, I plan to move on to ZZ Gundam. I loved Zeta, and to my understanding, there is a fair amount of content in ZZ that is relevant to Unicorn. As weird as it may sound, I am going to conclude this 'Project Gundam' by watching the show that started the entire metaseries. All of these will last me a while, however, as the three big titles in the franchise I have yet to view are all forty to fifty episodes in length.

For anyone wondering why Gundam AGE is not listed above, my answer is quite simple - I have zero desire to watch it. Everything I've seen and heard about it makes me cringe, and I fear it has a lot of potential to rank as my single least favorite Gundam series ever. I know a lot of fans judged the series by the first trailers released, but now that I know a bit about the plot and characters, I am even more hesitant to view it. To be honest, I will probably give it a shot at some point in the future, but I have absolutely no plans to start anytime soon. Also, the primary goal of this 'Project Gundam' was to explore many of the older Gundam series, many of which I have found quite enjoyable.

This whole experience has proved to be rather eye-opening. I've viewed series that I knew little to nothing about beforehand - Gundam X, and MS IGLOO. I've also come to find that my opinions have, on a number of ocassions, aligned opposite the popular consensus. While Wing and 0080 have many fans, I am not among them. On the other hand, I expected little out of both SEED Destiny and F91, but what I got was a decent series that easily surpassed SEED as well as my very favorite of the standalone Gundam films. From what I have heard thus far, I'm expecting ZZ to be decent, though not exactly the cream of the crop. Victory Gundam, on the other hand, is proving superb, and if it keeps on this streak, it may find itself a spot among my favorite Gundam series.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Ada gets her own campaign in Resident Evil 6

Capcom recently announced that a fourth campaign will be included as an unlockable bonus in Resident Evil 6. In the style of Resident Evil 4's Assignment Ada or Separate Ways, the story will follow Ada as she crosses paths with the main cast. The graveyard gameplay footage below would indicate that Ada's levels may place emphasis on classic horror.

Also announced was a new gameplay mode known as Agent Hunt. It appears to be a zombies vs. humans mode, with emphasis on group tactics to take down the game's heroes. Over time, players can mutate and upgrade their zombie character, providing a variety of tactical approaches in order to gain the upper hand.

Anime review: Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood

A retelling of the smash hit 2004 Fullmetal Alchemist anime, Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood sticks close to the original manga story as it weaves together the story of brothers Edward and Alphonse Elric, two young alchemists who seek to restore their original bodies. After losing their mother, the two brothers attempted the ultimate taboo among alchemists - human transmutation. The rules of equivalent exchange were not obeyed, as there was nothing to account for a soul, and in turn Edward lost an arm and a leg while Alphonse lost his entire body. Quick to react, Edward bonded his brother's soul to a nearby suit of armor. Thereafter, the Elric brothers devoted themselves entirely to researching the many forms of alchemy until Edward was accepted into the Amestrian military as the youngest State Alchemist in history.

Their search for answers leads the Elric brothers all across the country of Amestris, and they encounter the hardened soldiers of the Briggs Wall, chimeras, and a prince from the foreign land of Xing. But lurking in the shadows are the Homunculus, artificial humans who incite violence among humans and have a deep-seated interest in Edward's prowess as an alchemist. Also of great importance is Colonel Roy Mutang's plan to change the Amestrian government from the inside out, after the horrors he witnessed years ago in the country of Ishval - horrors which led the Ishvalan exile scar to hunt down and kill State Alchemists one by one. Each step Ed and Alphonse take toward reclaiming what was lost peels back another layer of the full story, and a wide variety of characters are introduced - nearly just as many friendly to their cause as those who seek to hinder the Elric brothers' progress. While not as frequent but equally important, the story does break away from time to time to explore a deeper meaning behind the machinations of Amestris and the world around it, focusing on topics like the hidden truths of alchemy and loopholes in the theory of equivalent exchange.

The first dozen episodes are quite fast-paced, and it seems that Studio Bones approached this new introductory story arc under the assumption that viewers would be familiar with either the original anime or manga version. Because of this, there are a few plot points that are not greatly expanded upon, and a handful of characters, such as Greed, are not explored as in-depth as in the previous anime. Some of these points are revisited later in the series however. While those early episodes do seem to move along at a semi-breakneck pace, the rest slow down to allow for better character and plot development, and the pacing from then on out is as close to perfect as one could hope.

There are a lot of characters that earn screen time between the start of the series and its conclusion. While certain characters play roles that are clearly more significant to the grand story, everyone from the main cast down to the minor roles sees a satisfying development. Ed and Al are always at the center of the story, but much of what shapes and changes them plays out gradually over the entire sixty-four episode run. Other characters, like the Homunculus Pride, have a significantly smaller time frame to be defined in, but Studio Bones does well to make practically every one of them concrete, entertaining, and enjoyable. And even though there are a handful of characters that only appear once or twice, there isn't a single moment wasted on filler material.

At the center of the mysteries of the Homunculus sits Father. While his involvement with the series' events come to light very gradually, his presence is felt from the very first episode. His role as one of the primary villains adds a degree of uncertainty and suspense. He manages to avoid the general cliches of anime villainy, save for a few points in the latter episodes where he takes time to monologue.

As a whole, Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood takes on a darker tone than the 2004 anime. The first season of the previous anime was pretty lighthearted, while the second season dug deeper into the mysteries of the Homunculus and set a darker tone as a result. There are moments where the newer anime takes a break from its serious routine for someone to poke fun at Ed's short stature or mistake Alphonse for the Fullmetal Alchemist due to his body being a suit of armor. But the atmosphere in Brotherhood is quite consistent throughout.

The soundtrack is downright epic. There are so many tunes to fit each and every atmosphere, from scenes of alchemic battle to the moments where Ed and Al have to remind each other what they really want before picking themselves back up from a setback. The animation style is only slightly different than it was in the 2004 anime, with softer outlines to character models. The backgrounds are nicely detailed and the lighting effects are generally impressive. There is an occasional shift in animation style when a goofy or lighthearted moment occurs, but the quality is consistent throughout, with a slight improvement during the last few episodes that borders on theatrical release quality.

In an age where contemporary fantasy epics are constantly compared and contrasted with Harry Potter, Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood stands strong against such a wildly popular and critically acclaimed modern classic. Brotherhood manages to perfectly blend action elements with a very human tale about the Elric brothers. There are genuinely emotional moments where viewers will feel a strong connection to Edward, Alphonse, Winry, or any other of the number of brilliantly molded characters. Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood is a phenomenal tale for viewers all ages - one that transcends the stereotypes of fantasy fiction and instead sets the bar up another notch for the competition. It is without a doubt one of the greatest fantasy stories crafted in any entertainment medium.

My rating: 10 (out of 10)
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