Friday, May 22, 2015

Manga review: Omoi no Kakera

(This is a copy of my MAL review)

Continuing my habit of reviewing things I like that have only one or no reviews, we have Omoi no Kakera, a short romance Manga in the Shoujo Ai genre.

Now, I’ve you’re reading this review you’ll probably have an idea of what Shoujo Ai is, but for those that don’t I’ll give a short summery.  Shoujo Ai roughly translates to “Girls Love”, and is exactly what it sounds like, romance between girls.

So why is a grown man reading Chinese comics about gay girls?  Well I have no shame in admitting that I started reading Shoujo Ai as a dumb teenager who thought lesbians were hot.

But as I got older, I started to appreciate them on a different level; the writing is often very deep even though the art leans towards lacking on average.  For some reason Shoujo Ai stories seem to have a higher average of compelling series compared to other romance manga; that is when you can find a Shoujo Ai that’s longer than two chapters.

Omoi no Kakera consists of two stories, Fragments of Love and Love & Piece, A sidestory.  As of this review the translations of the side story Love & Piece appear to be incomplete, I may edit this review when I finally get a chance to read the rest.

So in this review I will focus on Fragments of Love, the main title of this book.  A short but sweet fifteen chapter manga about a highschool lesbian who works at a cafĂ© in the “gay district” (its words not mine) of the city.

Like most Shoujo Ai, this series is slice of life, very down to earth and normal.  Shoujo ai is not the thing to go to for high octane action, but that’s to be expected.  Now I might have brought up romance a lot so far because Shoujo AI is somewhat linked to it, but this series is a pure drama that happens to be about gay characters. 

The romance is somewhat lacking in that regard, there is no actual “romance” that you might find in another manga, no couple that persists across the story.  As the title implies, the story is about love and the different forms or “fragments” it comes in. This is very much a story about love, but not necessarily romance, which I must say is something I’m finding a very hard time accurately describing.

Instead of a romance we have a character driven drama, though it’s not a very heavy drama. It’s more the kind of drama you would see in a teen drama on tv, only far and a way more well done.

Now I’m going to be honest here, the art is quite bad, to the point I was confused sometimes trying to figure out who characters were because they all look so similar.  This is a big problem when you have a decently large cast of characters across two stories; I sometimes had trouble remembering which storyline I was reading thanks to this.

This is a very internally focused drama, with the characters development all revolving around coming to terms with their feelings. Western drama tends to focus on the external elements, things happening that effect the characters; this focuses on why the characters are affected, not how.

Our main character, Mika Takaoka, is a far cry from a standard Shoujo Ai protagonist. In a genre that often have very insecure young girls who don’t understand their sexuality as the leads, Mika is a breath of fresh air; a very strong, mature girl who fully understands her own sexuality.

I’ve probably rambled on far too long about a 15 chapter story about lesbians, so I’m going to end it here. Omoi no Kakera is a nice short series that shows a strong grasp of the genre and pushes itself beyond the average, but falls short in a few areas.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Would I have bought: Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams

Continuing my series of semi-review first impression... things, we have another indie side scrolling platformer! What a twist! Today is different however, this game is in 3D!
More accurately, this is what people tend to call a 2.5d platformer, a game with full 3d graphics but gameplay similar to oldschool titles.

Remember, this is less of a review and more of an impression on whether I would have bought this outside of a cheap bundle of games.

Giana Sisters is a game with a very strange history of which I only learned after I had already played this game, had I known it my interesting might have gone up somewhat.
Originally a game for the Commodore 64 released in 1987, it was essentially a clone of Mario Bros, even copying the mushroom theme of the levels.

It was followed up by a Nintendo DS remake many years later in 2009, removing its nature as a clone of Mario, it was met with decent reception but no widespread acclaim. It also received an iOS port later on.

Now we come to this game, the third game in the series and a complete reboot of the series by the developers of the second game, who formed an Indie development studio after their parent company went under.

The spite art is replaced with crisp 3d visuals, the classic platformer gameplay replaced with modern, speedrun focused gameplay designed to be replayed over and over to maximize your score on a level.

When I got this in a Humble Bundle I must admit, I didn’t care about it at all, I played it for about four minutes and put it down. Only after coming back to it did I understand that this game is actually good.

Like most Indie Platformers, this has one main gimmick, the ablity to switch between a light and ‘dark’ version of the titular protagonist Giana, both with a different skill.
The light Giana can do spin jump that slows her falling, and the dark Giana has a rushing arial dash useful for defeating enemies and smashing things in your way.

One thing I really liked is that when you change characters the stage seamlessly morphs artstyle into a dark or light version, but the levels are reversed; light Giana gets the dark level and vice versa. The music also switches from a classic soundtrack made by the original game’s composer, and a hard rock remix of the same songs.

The gameplay is fast; when you die you instantly restart at a checkpoint with no lives to worry about like older games, leading to a game that even when it gets hard isn’t frustrating to play, because you can just try again right away.

Would I have bought Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams? Not at all, and that’s a damn shame. The title and screenshots on Steam were not something that intrigued me, but I’m very glad I gave it another chance.

So, would I have bought Giana Sisters? No, but I’m sure glad I did.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Anime Review: Death Parade

Based off of the 2013 short film Death Billiards comes Death Parade, a show about death, and parades! Ok, not that many parades really, but there’s certainly a lot of death.

If you want to fully appreciate this show, please watch Death Billiards first, it’s essentially the pilot episode of the series, though it doesn’t necessarily fit perfectly into the canon of the TV anime.

This show is an emotional rollercoaster, from heart wrenching drama in one episode to comedy the next, you never know what to expect from Death Parade, except that it’s going to be good.

For the most part each episode deals with a new story and a new set of characters, with a few recurring characters throughout. This might seem like it leads itself to a lot of underdeveloped characters, but the anime manages to make believable, interesting characters each time even with such a short timeframe to work with.
The series does veer a little into melodrama at points, but with a half hour to establish two new characters and have us care about them it’s somewhat expected and doesn’t detract from the overall quality of the presentation.

I feel like I can’t say much more about the plot, because this series is best going in with no idea what’s going to happen, if you’re at all interested you might want to watch it now before you inevitably get spoiled by a less conscientious reviewer.

I don’t tend to pay attention to the music of an anime unless it’s ill fitting, so if I have nothing to say about an OST it probably means it’s good. I DO however have something to say about the opening and ending songs, the former is an upbeat disco-like beat, while the ending is a much more somber and slow rock song.

Both songs complement the series perfectly in different ways, fitting the different atmospheres of the series, and I didn’t skip either of them a single time while watching, which I’ll normally do even with themes I like.

The animation by Studio Madhouse, one of my top three most consistent studios, is amazing, the use of color and shot angle leads to a beautiful series where every scene is enthralling even without very much ‘action.”

I had high hopes for this going into it after seeing Death Billiards, they were met and then some. This is my favorite anime of the winter season and a contender for a top five spot for 2015. Maybe even first; but let’s just see how the year goes before we make any claims of that magnitude.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Would I have bought: OliOli

Continuing on with my series of first impressions on games I got in bundles, we come to OliOli. This is another sidescrolling plat former, only today the gimmick is skateboarding.

As always, this is my opinion after playing the game for only a short amount of time to see if I liked it, I try to play long enough to judge the game. If I dislike something I’ll probably end up playing it more just to see if it improves, where as if I liked it from the start I might only play a bit because I already knew the answer.

Less like a traditional platformer and more like a game like skate or Tony Hawk in 2d, this game’s emphasis is on hitting tricks correctly in order to score points. Each level has multiple objectives, completing all of them unlocks a new; harder version of the same level, adding quite a bit of replayability.

The art is charming, kind of grunge indie look to it fitting it’s theme of urban skateboarding. I’ve only played about an hour of this game so I’ve kind of run out of things to say, time to get more abstract.

This is the kind of indie game I live for, it’s so unlike any other game I own on steam, it feels classic but also modern, the gameplay is fast and responsive, and above all, fun.
Chaining combos of tricks together feels just as satisfying here as it does in 3d skating games; I was very pleasantly surprised by this game when I got it in a bundle.

Would I have bought OliOli? Yes, had I ever heard of it before the bundle I got it in.
I don’t know how people feel about it but I had never seen it mentioned before. Sorry I didn’t have much to say about this one today, hopefully the next game I try out inspires a slightly longer post!

Monday, May 4, 2015

Would I have bought: 140

Taking a break from my barrage of anime related content (my Deadpool post notwithstanding), let’s dive into another nerdy subject. This will be a series of posts about my first impressions with steam games I’ve picked up over time during sales or bundles and ignored completely afterwards. It’s goal will be to ask a very simple question. Would I have bought this for full price outside of a bundle or sale?

As always, this is entirely my subjective opinion.

140 is an indie platformer that I got in a humble indie bundle, one of many games over the years I’ve gotten from such things that I have no real interest it. This is not a full review of the game; I have not completed it, getting about halfway before growing bored.
Woops, spoilers. I didn’t care for it.

Now 140 has an interesting mechanic, though one I’ve seen before. The beat of the backing music affects the game, platform moves, paths open and close ect on a set beat.
Not a bad mechanic and the game performs it well, however one gimmick is not enough to change the fact that the underlying platform game behind the gimmick is not very compelling.

This is a very slow, methodical game. If you’re a fan of modern twitch gameplay platformers like Super Meat Boy or Dustforce you’ll probable find this rather dull. The music gimmick also tends to lead to situations were you can do nothing but wait for the correct beat, with nothing else interesting happening.

My biggest complaint is this, the style is very minimalistic. Now, if any of you have seen my youtube channel you’d know I don’t mind games with old or non-existent graphics.
However, most games like that I play are either very old games, or have a vast depth of game mechanics to make up for the visual deficiency.

This is a standard platformer with slow controls and one gimmick that features almost no graphics at all. You play a square, when you move you turn into a circle, when you jump you become a triangle.

I’m all for minimalist art guys but seriously, this game looks unfinished. My first impression of the game is “This looks generic”, which in a veritable sea of indie platformers is not something you want people to think about your game.

The gameplay is good but basic outside of the gimmick and the art style is epitome of nothing. Were I to see this on steam on it’s own, would I have picked it up on it’s own merits?

Probably not, but it doesn't mean it's a bad game.