Monday, May 26, 2014

Top five video games and anime of 2014 - Spring contenders

There have certainly been years past where I posted my predictions for my end of the year ‘top five’ contenders and many of the anime and video games I mentioned therein did not make the cut, so I suppose I ought to encourage you to take the following with a grain of salt. On the video game side of things, I feel that there is still plenty of room for variation, as some of the 2014 releases I am most excited for are not yet available (Watch Dogs, Ghost Song), while others may follow in the footsteps of Killer7 as older titles that I have not yet properly experienced. As far as the anime side of things is concerned, however, I anticipate that all of the titles mentioned below will end up on the top five list, unless some truly magnificent and mind-blowing release sneaks up on me later this year.

- Video Games –

Killer7 – Weird even by Suda51 standards, Killer7 is something of an antithesis to his Wii cult classic, No More Heroes, as it deals with a dark and serious story of six assassins given corporeal form by one aged Harman Smith, and their intermediary known as Garcian, all of whom are tasked with stopping the mutated walking time bombs known as Heaven’s Smiles and getting to the bottom of a global conspiracy. It’s a game that pays an insane attention to detail as it weaves as thinking man’s story, all the while presenting an odd yet surprisingly well-designed gameplay that combines on-rails shooting with action and puzzle elements, wrapped up in a hyper-cel-shaded package.

DmC: Devil May Cry – Admittedly, this reimagining of Dante and Vergil’s story is a bit on the short side, but what it lacks in length it makes up for with a grungy modern European art style and far and away the smoothest gameplay the series has seen yet. Dante is foul-mouthed, brash and impulsive, but an entertaining anti-hero nonetheless. The boss fights are quite nicely varied, and the demon and angel weapons as creative in design as they are fun to lay a smack-down with.

Grand Theft Auto V – The series that really brought sandbox gaming into the limelight, Grand Theft Auto’s fifth installment sees two men whose glory days have long since passed team up with a young up-and-coming hustler to revisit their criminal tendencies in a gaming world that truly pushes the limits and expectations of what modern gaming is all about. There is so much to see and do in GTA V, and while the heists are intense and thoroughly enjoyable to plan and execute, it is easy to find yourself spending hours on end exploring the metro of Los Santos, stealing cars, planes, ATVs, boats, shooting up rival gang members, purchasing properties for a weekly income, biking to the tops of mountains, taking a submarine to the depths of the bay, base jumping off a skyscraper, or any of the other multitude of activities available. It’s crazy just how much content is crammed into this single game, and even harder to believe just how smoothly it all runs.

- Anime -

Puella Magi Madoka Magica – One of the last genres I expected I would ever watch with such anticipation, Madoka takes the tropes of magical girl anime and turns them on their heads. It’s a dark tale, one that dares to be bold and original, one that dares to provide a practical yet interesting explanation for each plot point, one that dares to follow in the footsteps of Neon Genesis Evangelion without identifying too closely with the pseudo-mecha classic. And while the series does introduce a couple of plot points late in the story that seem a tad out of place, the overall product is a brilliant realization of a heavily-stylized story that gradually layers its relevant information, and one that kept me on the edge of my seat from start to finish.

Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure – I’m a bit late to the Jojo's party, I’ll admit, as the 2012 anime provided my first proper exposure to the long-running series. Still, its combination of wacky fighting styles, somewhat darker tone, and classic rock references make for a one-of-a-kind action comedy. Whether it is the first season’s lovable Joseph Joestar that lands the first season on my end-of-the-year top five list, or Stardust Crusaders' incorporation of Stands that secures the second season the title of the superior Jojo’s tale, I can almost guarantee that one season or the other will end up near the top of the stack for 2014.

Mobile Suit Gundam Unicorn – I’ve mentioned a number of times how much I appreciate the time and effort that has been put into this OVA, and while I’m sad to see it go, it has been one heck of a ride over the past couple of years, with each episode being at the quality of a theatrical release. The pacing is spot-on, the balance between mobile suit action scenes and exposition perfect. While it is true that I have yet to view the final episode before writing up a proper review on this, Unicorn Gundam would have to fall flat on its face to make me consider it anything less than one of the very best entries in the long-running franchise.

Anime review: Puella Magi Madoka Magica: Rebellion

Fair warning: while this review will not reveal major spoilers about the film itself, it will contain spoilers regarding the Madoka anime series.

A twelve-episode series and two recap films later, the story of Puella Magi Madoka Magica tells its final chapter in a third film, titled Rebellion. After Madoka transcended to the level of a god and rewrote the laws of the universe, Homura was left in a new timeline where the curse of magical girls becoming witches did not apply. Instead, the energy of negative emotions and thoughts manifested in the form of beings known as wraiths, and hunting these became the new role of magical girls. While Madoka’s memory was wiped from existence, Homura still remembered her best friend and everything the two had sacrificed for each other’s sake. In the final moments of the anime, Homura displayed dark wings, implying her own powers had grown beyond what was typical of a magical girl.

It may come as something of a surprise, then, that Rebellion begins with all five of the magical girls from the series watching over the city and quelling nightmares before they grow out of control. There is a certain similarity between the presentation of these nightmares and the witches of the original anime, in that they are both presented in a very distinct style not exhibited by many other works in said medium. Backgrounds transition from a grayscale cityscape to colorful quilt-like patterns, while the physical forms of these nightmares are filmed as live-action 3D models than are layered into this 2D animated realm. While only a few instances of this are exhibited throughout the film, it works well as an evolution of the way the anime presented the witch’s labyrinths.

Within a half-hour of the film getting underway, both Homura and the audience are strikingly aware of the fact that something is off with the world as it being perceived. Some of the magical girls remember key events from the anime, others do not. The world appears more exaggerated and stylized, with gothic architecture and a greater contrast in colors prevalent as the world gradually shifts away from a familiar realm of modern technology witnessed throughout the majority of the series. Thus, Homura’s goal becomes that of uncovering the truth – why things appear out of order, what happened to the witches, and most importantly, what the full ramifications of Madoka’s ultimate sacrifice were.

One of Rebellion’s big selling points prior to its release was that it would introduce a new magical girl. However, the fact that she receives very little screen time and is allotted practically nothing in the way of time to develop into anything more than a mildly interesting plot device makes her inclusion more or less a joke. The animation and artistic style of the film, while still very good, do not display any significant increase in production value over the original series. The soundtrack is similarly a bit underwhelming – it certainly perpetuates an atmosphere similar to the series, but does not contain many complex or interesting tunes by comparison.

The brilliance of Puella Magi Madoka Magica was in its delivery and pacing – each of the twelve episodes layered the necessary information while similarly taking the time to focus on each character and weave a complex story, the full extent of which was not realized until the final few episodes. However, by the time Rebellion rolls around, viewers are intimately familiar with the personalities and behaviors of each magical girl, and while the first twenty minutes or so are a fun trip down memory lane, this portion of the film serves largely as a highlight reel for their individual powers and techniques. Once Homura picks up on the world being an imperfect vision of what she once knew, the story becomes incredibly predictable and reveals itself as unfortunately simplistic.

When Hideaki Anno set out to create End of Evangelion as a follow-up to the original Neon Genesis Evangelion, he did so with a few factors in mind – viewers being disappointed over the original series’ conclusion, the budget restraints the original series faced, the grander vision he had for the story, and the increase in popularity Evangelion saw a couple of years after its initial release. With Rebellion effectively taking on the same role of a follow-up film to an otherwise already-concluded series, it feels like a cheap cash-in for the sake of Madoka being so popular upon its initial release. The new endgame is a pointless retread of familiar territory, and attempts to explain itself as an end-all be-all solution for one final happy(-ish) ending, but there is little thought or care put into it. While the magical girls all display watered-down versions of their personalities from the series due to Rebellion’s less-than-two-hour runtime, Homura’s is the most insulting, as she is reduced to a selfish, almost sinister caricature of the complicated, hardened, and loving individual revealed by the conclusion of the original series.

My rating: 5 (out of 10)

Friday, May 16, 2014

3DS review: Kirby: Triple Deluxe

The pink puffball makes his debut on Nintendo’s 3DS in Kirby: Triple Deluxe, a platformer which utilizes the 3D gimmick to a wonderfully full extent. Levels are designed with both foreground and background areas, and small warp stars within each stage act transport Kirby back and forth. Though the story of Kirby: Triple Deluxe is not as complex or carefully scripted as in his other recent outings on the Wii or DS, the game certainly deserves recognition for taking its style and presentation into creative territory more akin to a Final Fantasy title that the typical Dreamland fanfare.

While King Dedede is incorporated into the story and Waddle Dee offers Kirby health items prior to each boss fight, the core game is focused almost exclusively on Kirby himself. Plenty of familiar power-ups return, and the fact that fire, ice, leaf, cutter, and so forth all remain almost entirely unchanged is for the best – there’s no point in fixing what isn’t broken. The new power-ups are a bit of a strange mix, but most work fairly well. The bell allows Kirby to create sound waves with a small range that, when used in rapid succession, effectively creates a small barrier around the pink hero. Beetle works in a similar fashion to fighter, allowing Kirby to pick up and throw stars or foes with the horn spike, as well as granting him flight. Circus is the odd one out, as it feels like an unnecessary hodgepodging of attacks all offered by other long-established abilities.

Some levels will grant Kirby access to the Hypernova ability, which changes him to a rainbow color scheme and increases both the strength and range of his inhalation significantly. No longer is Kirby limited to sucking up footsoldiers or blocks – now he can uproot trees, pull back wrecking balls to knock down stone walls, and even devour large worm-like enemies. This Hypernova power may border on ridiculous, but its use is required for those wishing to track down all of the game’s sun stones or 250 collectible keychains. Plus, seeing huge portions of the environment get torn apart is quite entertaining.

In a highly unexpected turn of events, Kirby: Triple Deluxe utilizes the 3DS’ internal gyroscope in ways that hardly any games before it have. Tilting the system left and right allows Kirby to move faster in gondolas, and are used to solve many of the game’s puzzles. The boss fights, though few and far between, have also seen major improvements. While it has been a longstanding tradition to pit Kirby against some variation of Whispy Woods early in any of his adventures, Triple Deluxe takes everything you have come to expect from that fight and turns it on its head. Each and every end-level boss encounter is wonderfully realized, and collectively rank among the best in the entire Kirby series.

A couple of other modes are available from the outset, including a multiplayer versus match and rhythm game that features classic Kirby tunes. The boss battle gauntlet run of the Arena makes a return, and upon beating the main story mode, players are granted the option of performing a time-trial revisit all of the stages as King Dedede. Like most Kirby titles before Triple Deluxe, these modes are nice afterthoughts, but at the end of the day, the core game is what best represents the overall product. And boy, does Triple Deluxe shine as one of the best entries in the series. In truth, the game’s one major flaw is that it feels a bit short, especially following on the heels of the Wii’s Return to Dreamland. That said, if you are looking for a well-designed and just plain fun platformer, Kirby: Triple Deluxe delivers in a handheld fix that does an exceptional job at incorporating the 3DS’ definitive design points.

My rating: 9.25 (out of 10)

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Anime review: From the New World

Set in a post-apocalyptic Japan, Shin Sekai Yori, otherwise known as From the New World, depicts a society that has largely reverted to feudal era technologies. People rely on waterways as their primary means of transportation, live in tight-knit communities, and emphasize teamwork as schoolchildren are divided into small groups they are meant to stay with until graduation. While all of this may seem rather mundane, the biggest defining characteristic of the series is that all the humans bear some psychic powers that manifest in slightly different ways. Satoru, for example, can change the surface of an environment to be reflective, offering him a look down a long hallway without risking his safety. Maria can levitate her body, while others are capable of deflecting arrows or commanding fire, the latter being the trait most commonly exhibited by the main protagonist, Saki.

When Saki’s story begins, she is but a child, thrown into a group with five of her peers. As they learn about their psychic powers, referred to as their Cantus, they are instructed to take part in various challenges – some team-based, others independent. However, one of the children in Saki’s group apparently cannot harness their powers to as full or focused an extent as the others, and soon after the teachers take note of this, the child ceases to show up to class. Thus is the first of many scenarios which will drive Saki, Satoru, Shun, Maria, and Mamoru to question just what the motives of the adults are, how their society truly operates, and what exactly happened between the arrival of the first Cantus users hundreds of years ago up to present day.

One of the great dangers Saki and friends learn of early on is the Fiends, Cantus users whose powers run wild, their behavior turning animalistic. Or at least, that is what they are claimed to be. These Fiends supposedly appear on very rare occasions, and much of the information on them, as well as information regarding the rest of the old world ways, is restricted. Some of this knowledge is retained within small databanks that resemble small horse-like creatures known as False Minoshiros. During their adventures, Saki and friends encounter more than one of these False Minoshiros, but much of the truth of humanity’s past is not divulged until late in the series.

The children also make multiple encounters with a species that resembles large naked mole rats. These creatures stand around two to three feet tall, with rare exceptions like the proud warrior Kiroumaru standing as tall as an adult human. Different colonies of these rats bear different skin tones, facial structures, etc., but each colony is intelligent to the point of understanding human speech and operating on their own as they gather supplies to dig for resources underground. Squealer is the rat Saki, Satoru, and company encounter most frequently, and despite their confidence in the fact that these rats perceive humans and their Cantus abilities as god-like, they are ever-catious of Squealer as his behavior is sometimes suspicious.

The animals that inhabit this future world range from the aforementioned sentient naked mole rats, to giant cave-dwelling crabs, to ruthless hunter cats that the townspeople use to seek out and destroy Fiends – all bizarre mutations on real-world animals. Some of these creatures evolved on their own post-old world fallout, while others were designed by humans to serve particular purposes. Even the humans, with their mastery over psychokinesis, have restrictions worked into their gene pool. High tense situations force young adults to turn to physical interaction as a way to calm their nerves, sexual orientation apparently being completely irrelevant, as seemingly every character shows the capability of being attracted to both genders. Even more extreme is the Shame of Death, an involuntary reaction that will instantly kill a human should they attempt to kill another human. In theory, this creates a peaceful society that seeks only to benefit the whole, but as anyone familiar with dystopian media is well-aware, there are always ways around these restrictions, and what lurks in the shadows may seek to undo everything the humans have crafted these past many centuries.

From the New World weaves its story over multiple decades, throwing in themes of coming-of-age, piecing together puzzles from one’s past, the conflict of man vs. nature, and the strive to achieve one’s personal goals even as death and loss are prevalent around them. For this series delivers a number of plot twists and shock value moments, the biggest ones being at the conclusion of story arcs. The finale, while fitting and intelligently plotted, is not exactly what should be described as a ‘happy ending’. Saki and friends’ desire to expose the truth comes at a cost, and though these new world humans wield incredible powers, they are not all-powerful.

The way the five core characters are handled from the start of the series to its conclusion is human and practical, even if the society in which they live is somewhat removed from our own. The manner in which Saki and friends deal with emotional, physical, and moral challenges certainly paints them as rebels within their own time and place, but they are all the more likeable for that reason. As strikingly different of outcomes result from Shun, Satoru, Maria, and Mamoru's own personal journeys, the story always centers back on Saki, whether she is exploring the forests with her schoolmates, digging up information on the monster rats, or seeking advice from her elders on how to deal with newfound responsibilities. Truth be told, I don’t think the series would have been half as enjoyable if a character with less perseverance, someone who has not had to deal with a much personal loss, someone who lacked Saki’s quick-wittedness, had taken the role of main protagonist.

The soundtrack incorporates original tunes that emphasize classical string instruments, drums, and hauntingly beautiful vocals, as well as portions of Dvorak’s New World Symphony. The character designs are rather typical of the contemporary digital animation style, though the way their hairstyles and items of clothing are rendered shows a curiously unique attention to detail. The colors of environments like green fields where breezes blow through, the dark and muddy caves of the rats, and the torch lit interiors of wooden buildings are distinctly different, but somehow all retain a consistent style – quite a feat, considering some of the bold places the anime takes its characters, as well as some of the stranger-looking creatures that line these landscapes.

Few series in this day and age dare to spend so much time exploring the world and its inhabitants as From the New World does. It would have been simple for the writers to focus on cool psychic battles and brush the multi-layered story to the side for the sake of pretty visuals, but that would have robbed us of such an intelligently-crafted tale. During the final story arc, the pacing does pick up a bit to advance toward the endgame trials, but this is after multiple timeskips and years of Saki preparing for her ultimate role in the tale, so it is largely forgivable. The final story arc is decidedly a bit more single-minded than the previous portions of the story, but it does well to bring all the intertwined plot points to a sensible head. From the New World is frothing with creativity, and with a smart and daring story to boot, once you get to watching, it’s hard to ignore just how much higher a quality and quantity this series provides during its twenty-five episode run than most any of its mainstream contemporaries.

My rating: 8.75 (out of 10)

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Pokemon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire reveal trailer

What Pokemon fans have been asking for these past few years has finally come to fruition - remakes of Pokemon Ruby and Sapphire, titled Pokemon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire respectively, will be launching worldwide this November. I'll be honest, I'm a bit surprised Nintendo and Game Freak went ahead and actually remade these titles. Obviously a great number of people wanted this to happen, but the main reason the first two generations of Pokemon games received the remake treatment was because Pokemon from Red, Blue, Yellow, Gold, Silver, and Crystal could not be transferred over to the GBA titles, so the developers opted to simply remake these games in the forms of Leaf Green, Fire Red, Heart Gold, and Soul Silver to work around this hindrance.

Still, it is kind of cool that players who may have missed out on the generation III titles will finally get to experience them on the 3DS - to my understanding, Ruby and Sapphire were surprisingly among the weakest-selling Pokemon games, and are thus some of the hardest to come by today. Plenty of bootleg copies can be found online, but a legit copy of either game or the successor Emerald will run you more than a few bucks due to their semi-rare status. One of the biggest surprises with this announcement for me personally was the fact that these games will be releasing by the end of this year, a little more than twelve months after X and Y debuted on the 3DS. If both X and Y and these Hoenn remakes were being developed simultaneously, it might help explain why X and Y were so short and considerably easier to burn through than previous installments. As a result, I do expect Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire to be rather direct remakes of their GBA counterparts - obviously they will account for the now 700+ Pokemon available, but I don't expect a plethora of new areas or content outside of what already existed in the original versions.

That said, I do have a small wishlist of content that I would like to see worked into these remakes. First off, Heart Gold and Soul Silver introduced a handful of new areas not present in the original GBC versions, like the Pokeathalon and the Sinjoh Ruins. As Emerald is frequently considered to be the most 'full and complete' generation III experience, I'd like to see some of the extra areas/content from that added to the pre-existing Ruby and Sapphire content. I'd also like to see Nintendo add a few more Mega Evolutions, whether they are just for Hoenn-local Pokemon or for Pokemon from other regions. While X and Y introduced some interesting Mega Evolutions, they were very limited to a handful of Pokemon and their respective typings, and though I personally rarely use Mega Evolutions myself, I recognize that even fewer of these Mega Evolutions see frequent use. With Mega Blaziken being the only other starter Pokemon outside of the generation I trio to receive a Mega Evolution, I can't help but wonder what Nintendo and Game Freak would do with a Mega Swampert and Mega Sceptile.

Am I planning to purchase either of these titles? Honestly, I can't say for sure at the moment. All this trailer provided us with was a release date and tentative box art, and I'd like to see some actual gameplay before I make a call on that. Considering that I haven't been as blown away by my playthrough of Sapphire as I was with my playthroughs of Soul Silver or the generation V titles, it's most likely that I would purchase Omega Ruby, if I were to get one game or the other. Still, I do find it a bit odd that this reveal came prior to E3. Perhaps Nintendo has plenty of other big reveals in store for the big show. I mean, I know plenty of people (myself included) are still holding out on a Majora's Mask 3D confirmation.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Gamecube review: Killer7

You may have gathered from my many reviews of Suda51’s games that I am a huge fan of his work. Much as I love No More Heroes and its sequel, I was acutely aware of the fact that most Suda51 fans held Killer7 to just as high a caliber. I recall seeing promo content for Killer7 before it ever released on the Gamecube via Nintendo Power and various websites, but never had the chance to play it in proper until recently. Whereas No More Heroes is an unapologetic satire on the action game genre as well as the video game industry at large, Killer7 combines horror and action elements in an on-rails shooter that involves clever puzzles, requires quick thinking and fast reflexes, and boasts a curious brand of dark psychedelic flair.

The Smith Syndicate, otherwise known as the Killer7, is made up of – you guessed it – seven core members. Garcian Smith is liason between the six assassins and their master, Harman Smith. In the event that one of the six assassins – Kevin, Dan, Kaede, Mask, Con, or Coyote – is killed during a mission, Garcian can retrieve their remains and bring them back to life. The catch, however is that Garcian must retread their steps into enemy-filled territory. Thus is the big gamble with retrieving a dead Smith – Garcian cannot be upgraded, and in the event that a mission does not require use of the Smith in question’s unique abilities, it may be wise to simply carry on with the remaining members of the syndicate.

Blood is the currency of Killer7, and is used to heal during a mission, required to utilize the unique abilities of each of the Smiths, and can be exchanged for upgrade points to boost the stats of the Smiths. Each Smith has a different skill set, ranging from Con’s speed in both mobility and firing rate, to Kaede’s long-distance scoped pistol, to Kevin’s throwing knives which negate any need to reload. However, each Smith has an offset to prevent any single one from becoming more powerful than the others. Con’s defensive capacities are practically nonexistent, and though Mask deSmith is built like a tank, the spread of his grenade launchers results in his gathering a lower-quality blood far more often than not. Kaede and Mask’s unique abilities often reveal hidden messages and passageways respectively, and are most helpful in solving puzzles. Coyote and Kevin’s abilities are most frequently used to access new areas of the map, while Con’s ability to hear specific sounds and determine the correct path off those sees the least use. Dan’s ability to charge up one Collateral Shot in order to take out enemy spawn points is used sparingly, but is practical nonetheless.

The enemies that the Killer7 face at every turn are monstrous humanoids known as Heaven’s Smiles – effectively walking time bombs with abilities that vary from one mission to the next. If a Heaven’s Smile gets too close to one of the Smiths, it will detonate and chisel away a decent portion of their health bar. Some varieties of Heaven’s Smiles are slow but capable of taking many hits, others are stationary but notably more lethal as ‘turret’ units. Some of the more dangerous Heaven’s Smiles, encountered later in the game, are designed to race toward players before they have much time to devise a countering strategy. While the game never feels cheap or frustratingly difficult, it certainly demands a unique learning curve given its style of gameplay, and a trial-and-error pattern is key to taking down some of the game’s most lethal enemies.

These Heaven’s Smiles are the binds that tie everything together, plot-wise. At the outset, Harman has an encounter with an old acquaintance named Kun Lan. Kun Lan has acquired the means to offer ordinary citizens the chance at becoming Heaven’s Smiles, and furthering his terrorist routine. Swept up in the rivalry of these two old men are political officials representing Japan and the U.S., as well as other radical idealists like one Ulmeyda. It’s a melting pot of cleverly-scripted characters with colorful attitudes that lean more toward the practical and realistic given the scenario at large, as opposed to No More Heroes’ more crazy and eccentric residents. Even with the M-rating slapped on the box, it should be noted that Killer7 is a thinking man’s game – not just because of the logic-based puzzles, but because of the story and setting’s emphasis on more adult themes like modern terror tactics, cultist followings, irregularities in space-time, geopolitics, and moral ambiguity.

Much like the more recent Killer is Dead, Killer7 utilizes a hyper cel-shaded art style, wherein whites are borderline-glaringly bright, and shadows are nearly pitch black. The animations and details of each character model are incredibly well-rendered, however, so it is thankfully not a case of the art style trumping the care put into bringing the Smith Syndicate to life. The soundtrack incorporates a number of industrial and techno tunes to flesh out its near-future setting, while also adding a dash of rock and classical string sounds to the mix. Some of the cutscenes opt for a modern anime approach, while the majority deliver story segments in small doses of grungy 2D digital animation.

Kiler7 will run players about fifteen hours or so on their first playthrough. Some levels are more time-consuming than others, as they may require the Smith Syndicate to retrace their steps in order to complete a puzzle that was impossible to overcome at an earlier point. Others host considerably more enemies, leading players to have their triggers ready to go at a moment’s notice. But even the first introductory level lacks a linear design. There is never a set order in which players must overcome the various challenges of each mission, rather the ultimate goal is to retrieve all the required Soul Shells rewarded from mastering puzzles and exploring the environment. The game does mark each puzzle, Soul Shell, and point of interest on the map screen, making retreading one’s steps a less tedious process, though the game will never state outright what needs to be done at each location.

However, clues can be purchased for an adequate amount of blood from the ghostly figure of Yoon-Hyoon and his luchador mask. Similarly, the bondage jumpsuit-bound individual known as Iwazaru offers tidbits on local enemy tactics in any given locale. Arguably the most interesting of these phantoms is Travis Bell, a young man who knows perhaps more about the picture at large than any of the Smiths. His knowledge of the Japan-U.S. political affairs and the associates Garcian occasionally meets with makes him a key part of unraveling the grander story.

While the seven Smiths are merely faces with separate weapon sets at the start of Killer7, they each have their time in the spotlight, and by the game’s final hours, each will have a distinct and rounded identity. Some of the Smiths are explored in greater detail through letters and key items found within missions, forcing some digging on the part of players. Others, like Dan and Mask, have fully-scripted cutscenes allotted to them. Upon completing the main game, the grueling challenge of Killer8 is unlocked, which grants players access to Harman Smith alongside the other six assassins.

Killer7 is a rare gem, unfortunately overlooked by many due to its limited exclusivity to the Gamecube and release late in the sixth console generation. Despite the fact that the game does see a couple of hiccups few and far between, there isn’t any one element that stands out as being significantly flawed. Killer7 is weird, no doubt, but that is standard of any Suda51 title. Killer7's unorthodox controls and general gameplay may seem a bit daunting at first, but by the time players complete the first mission, it should all feel very fluid and natural. Killer7 deals with some dark plot elements that are very relevant to this day and age, and the culmination of its mature storytelling, wild artistic vision, and crazy creative gameplay make it one of the best games I have experienced on Nintendo’s purple lunchbox console.

My rating: 10 (out of 10)
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