As we are now well into the month of July, I thought it an appropriate time to preview the contenders for my end of year ‘top five’ anime and video game lists. These are, of course, contenders that I feel currently have a strong shot at making said top five lists, but are not necessarily confirmed, as other anime I view and games I play later this year could oust them from their current positions (I think this weighs more heavily on the video game portion of my blog, as most of the 2013 releases I am most looking forward to – Pikmin 3, Watch Dogs, The Wonderful 101, Killer is Dead, and Pokemon X & Y - will be coming out between late summer and mid-autumn).
- Video games -
Mass Effect 2/Mass Effect 3 – Both games have different strengths and weaknesses, but they do well to build off the groundwork laid out by the original Mass Effect (and by extension, Knights of the Old Republic) to create one of the most interesting and lively contemporary science fiction universes. Learning about the Collectors, the Cerberus loyalists, the Krogan genophage, and the Asari lifecycle is equally entertaining as shooting up enemies as you venture through the ruins of Tuchanka or the undercity of Omega. The relationships you build between Shepard and his/her crew members as well as the decisions you make regarding the outcome of various subplots will echo across the grander storyline, making the experience a truly engaging and rewarding one.
ZombiU - A surprisingly well-designed survival-horror game, ZombiU really set the standard for third-party developers on Nintendo’s new console. It requires you to be careful, tactical, and smart, limiting the number of item slots in your backpack but also offering multiple paths and strategies in defending yourself against (or avoiding, if you so choose) the rather durable infected that now roam the streets of London. Each area visited is packed with unique assets, and clever additions like a thin layer of fog and occasional specks of dust that show up on the gamepad screen show that the developers put a ton of time and care into creating a real, believable post-apocalyptic London. ZombiU may not be consistently terrifying, but the atmosphere is always spooky and the limited range on your radar will make for a tense experience. To that end, it is one of the most masterfully handled survival-horror games released for any console in a long while.
Persona 4 - While I still have a decent ways to go before completing this JRPG, I will say that what I’ve experienced so far has been a welcome break from conventions of the genre. Though the process of repeating portions of each dungeon is a bit unusual, it is not as tedious as I initially expected, as there are only a handful of dungeons to begin with. The game places just as much emphasis on traditional dungeon crawling and turn-based combat as it does on building relationships with classmates, friends, and relatives to further enhance your abilities in fusing personas and developing combat strategies. Though Persona 4 was released after the PS3 had effectively taken over the PS2’s role as Sony’s main console, it is a game that still looks and sounds great on the hardware.
- Anime -
Evangelion 3.0: You Can (Not) Redo - The third entry in the Rebuild of Evangelion tetralogy, You Can (Not) Redo takes us down a path both similar and different from End of Evangelion. 3.0 carries arguably the darkest tone the films have seen since End of Evangelion, and with good reason – the world has largely been reduced to a state of ruin. With former allies now enemies and his friends failing to provide him with any answers as to what happened since the Near-Third Impact that occurred at the end of Evangelion 2.0, Shinji Ikari finds the only person he can truly depend on is Kaworu Nagisa. Evangelion 3.0 has a much slower pace than its predecessors, with most of its runtime spent on exploring what happened since the events of Evangelion 2.0. That said, when the Eva units start duking it out, the action is intense and exciting, and the animation (somehow) looks even better than before.
Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann - A satire of all things mecha, Gurren Lagann is a series that knows little about subtlety. Every Gunmen mech is colorful and displays fighting poise that is over-the-top, while the character designs are highly stylized and the dialogue all about standing up for what you believe in and making the impossible possible, no matter how much the odds are stacked against you. There are two story arcs, each simultaneously taking jabs at and drawing inspirartion from both old-school and new-school mecha anime. The first story arc is understandably longer, as it devotes plenty of time to introducing the world and characters and developing them to set the stage for the second story arc. That said, the second arc (known as the Anti-Spiral War) does seem to take its sweet time in setting the stage for the last major conflicts, and probably could have been expanded to run nearly as long as the Beastman War arc, as the final few episodes do feel as though they are sort of rushing to reach the series’ conclusion. Regardless, Gurren Lagann is just plain fun to watch, and is action-packed from start to finish.
Steins;Gate - A story about the ramifications of time travel, Steins;Gate is grounded primarily in real-world theory, despite the means of time-travel being quite different from Doc Brown’s DeLorean or the Doctor’s TARDIS (both of which are poked fun at in the series’ English dub). Instead of physically moving backwards and forwards, protagonist Rintarou Okabe – a daring scientist who, despite truly caring for the well-being of his friends, fashions himself a mad scientist alter ego named Hououin Kyouma – sends text messages to the past via the frequencies emitted by his custom-rigged microwave, which in turn move him sideways onto timelines that diverge off the original one he started on. It’s a complex web, and the series – while genuinely funny throughout – does take a turn into dark territory near the halfway point. It’s a great balance of science fiction and comedy, and does exceptionally well at grounding itself in real scientific applications, despite how odd the devices used to achieve the jumps from one world line to another are.