Monday, February 24, 2020

Anime Monday - Fate/Zero

Well this was unexpected! As I mentioned in my Anime of the Decade post a couple of months ago, Fate/Zero is easily one of my favorite. It's something I wanted to talk about here for quite some time, and today I finally get that chance. But before I get into it, there's something that really needs to be explained. What Fate/Zero actually is, and why although it may be our best starting point in the US, it's really not meant to be. This can make the first part of it a struggle to get through, but if you understand some key points, then everything will be fine. So let's tackle that first.

What is Fate:

Explaining what Fate is is not something that can be done quickly and easily; however the basics of it really aren't that complex. The Fate series originated as a visual novel created by Type-Moon, and was written by co-founder Kinoko Nasu. It was based off of a novel idea he had, and was then altered into the series we know today. It takes place in a different timeline than that of his earlier works, but carries over a lot of the same themes and ideas that were established in works such as The Garden of Sinners, and Tsukihime. That being said these series are not needed to follow Fate, but long time fans of Nasu's work will already be familiar with some things because of this. Sometimes characters from those other timelines are seen or mentioned, and you have groups like the Mage Association who work at Clock Tower in London. This is the same group across all timelines and worlds, but again, they are different timelines with vastly different stories.

As for Fate itself, the first entry is Fate/Stay Night (which was originally released for PC), and all future Fate media use this game as a base for it's worlds. Sure there are alternate timelines to Stay Night as well, but those are side stories created after the fact. They are there to expand the universe, and offer something different. The main timeline consists of only a few entries, with it all "beginning" at Zero. But here is where the problems lie.

Zero is OUR Beginning:

Fate/Zero was a prequel novel written by Gen Urobuchi, and as such it's written for fans who are already familiar with Fate/Stay Night. It explains a lot of the events that lead up to Stay Night, and focuses on characters who would go on to play key roles throughout the series. Some of these characters were originally mentioned in Stay Night, but didn't have much screen time keeping a lot of their lives a mystery. Meanwhile other characters were front in center throughout Stay Night's story, but their motives and past experience would not always be so clear. Zero is what gave fans a look back into their lives to see exactly how things ended up the way they are at the start of Stay Night, and gives us a much better insight to the world itself. Going into Zero fans will already recognize most of the lead staff, and understand who they will eventually become. It's this knowledge that helps keep you hooked from start to finish, with some truly shocking revelations spread throughout the entire story. The problem is we here in the West don't really get to experience it this way.

Considering Stay Night was never released outside of Japan, and that we only have a messy anime adaptation, the anime version of Zero ultimately is our only real good starting point. As it's a prequel we can jump in with little problem, but it takes awhile before you become invested in it. At first you don't have a reason to care about these characters, and it can be a little hard to follow; however if you stick with it things do fall into place, and by the end you'll see just what makes this series so great. And then once you continue on with the series, you can always come back for a rewatch so that you can truly appreciate all that Zero is. So yes, we can get to the same point as Japanese fans, but it does take some time.

The Holy Grail War:

The story of Fate/Zero focuses around the events of what is known as the 4th Holy Grail War. These "Wars" come from a system mage families of the past set up years ago, and sees the Holy Grail itself being summoned to grant one person's any wish. However choosing that one person is not that simple. As the Grail itself has great power, the Grail is used to choose it's owner. It selects multiple "Masters" to take part in it's war, and then grants them the power to summon a legendary hero to fight by their side. Master and Servant will then partake in a battle to the death, with the last person standing being the winner. It's a straight forward concept, but the way things work actually gets a little bit more complex.

In the world of Fate everyone has what is known as an Origin. These "Origins" are what everyone world's soul originally began as, and is what defines who they are. Origins come from the center of all creation, a place known as the "Root," and is something many mages in the world strive for. With the use of the Holy Grail many believe they can finally reach the Root, but being selected to take part in the Holy Grail War is not a simple process. Only mages are allowed to enter this fight, and who a mage is is determined completely by birth. A mage is not the same as a witch by normal standards, and is actually a lot more similar to a super hero with special powers. It's something families can pass on to their offspring, and every mage in the world is born with a different type of power. This is how the world of Fate works, and what determines if someone can be in the Holy Grail War or not.

As for how the Holy Grail summoning system works, it runs completely off of a location known as the "Throne of Heroes." This is a location beyond time and space, and serves as a record of the people living in all timelines. When someone meets the criteria to be chosen as a "Heroic Spirit," all of that person's data is recorded by the system, and a Heroic Spirit is produced from it. This is where things get a little messy though. As the Throne of Heroes is a type of record for the world itself, the world has an impact on it also. Legends mix with reality, and a Hero Spirit is effectively changed. Just because real history tells us one thing about someone, the thousands of made up stories about them told world wide will be there to overwrite the facts. If it's rumored someone had a special power and the knowledge becomes wide spread, then that Heroic Spirit will in fact gain said power. This also means some Heroic Spirits will not be real people at all, but instead creations of the people. Or could it be they were real, and that the stories were simply based on them? This is a question that is never clearly answered in Fate, but is brought up constantly. Either way the fact remains that Heroic Spirits can be either our real world historical characters, or those from legend.

Understanding the Key Characters of Zero:

So once you have an understanding of the Holy Grail War (which really just comes down to mages using Heroic Spirits to fight for the Holy Grail), the next major thing about Zero is the characters themselves. Again long time fans will already know who many of these people are, but newcomers will be going in blind and may have a hard time following them. That being said I hope to clear up the confusion now, and make this story so much easier to get into. This is something I've explained for friends in the past with success, so bear with me.

Emiya -

The first major character we come across is Kiritsugu Emiya. Kiritsugu is a mercenary who has had a very hard life. By this point in the story he has been through multiple tragic events, and had to kill many people due to his line of work. The world sees him as a monster who is willing to do anything to take out his target, but the truth of that is a lot more horrific than one would expect. The things Kiritsugu has done might have been of his own volition, but they are decisions someone should never have to make. The life he has lived continued to eat away at his soul, and he eventually came to one conclusion. If he wants to change the world for the better, and truly help people, the only way to do so is by using the so called Holy Grail. This is why Kiritsugu decides to enter the War himself, but it's not something he can do alone.

Kiritsugu joins the Einzbern family in their quest for the Holy Grail. This family has a long standing history with the Holy Grail War, and their artificially created humans are key in the Grail's creation. One of which is a woman by the name of Irisviel. Her purpose is to be used for the Holy Grail War, and there's no way around this. The war will lead to her death, but knowing this doesn't stop Kiritsugu from falling in love with her. At the start of the series we see the birth of their daughter Illyasviel, but this event is a far cry from the happy occasion it should be. Kiritsugu and Irisviel love their daughter, but they know if they fail to save the world and end the Holy Grail War here, then she is the one who will eventually pay the price.

Along with Kiritsugu's long time partner Maiya, these three make up the first main group of characters in Fate/Zero. They get together and summon King Arthur, who they realize is actually a woman by the name of Artoria Pendragon (now localized as "Altria" in other Fate media). She is a part of the Saber class, and thus prefers to be called "Saber" to hide her true name. Something all Heroic Spirits tend to do to protect their identity. Artoria herself has a strong sense of justice and doesn't agree with Kiritsugu's "do whatever it takes to win" mentality, but she has no choice but to fight for her master. As every master is given what is known as "Command Seals" (later media translates this as "Command Spells"), Kiritsugu can force her to do anything he wants her to at least three times -- very much to her dismay.

Kotomine and Tohsaka -

Kiritsugu isn't the only person to team up for the Holy Grail War. The Kotomine family has been a part of the chuch for many generations. While the church normally looks down upon things such as magecraft, they are ultimately the ones in charge of overseeing the Holy Grail War. While the Grail itself is not actually the same Grail from Jesus' time, it's still seen as a relic of the church. Kirei Kotomine is a broken man who is forced into the war after a Command Seal appears on his hand. His father decides to team him up with a man named Tokiomi Tohsaka, and sends him off to Japan to prepare. While his father thinks this will be a good distraction for Kirei after the tragic death of his wife, the reality is... Kirei just doesn't care. Again, Kirei is a broken man, and it's something that becomes painfully more obvious as the series progresses.

Near the start of the series Kirei has no ambition, and honestly doesn't care what happens. In fact he actually finds pain to be pretty interesting. He goes along with Tokiomi because he's told to, and takes part in the war without caring who wins or loses. He himself summons an unknown Assassin class servant, while Tokiomi takes the Archer class. This Archer however is anything but your typical servant, as he is none other than the King of Heroes himself -- Gilgamesh. It's Gilgamesh who will eventually put Kirei on his own path in life, and who will become a major player across the entire Fate series.

Matou and Tohsaka -

The Matou family is a group of people who serves as a major adversary throughout all of Fate, and most of what they do all begins here. As a family that is slowly losing it's mage bloodline, the family head comes up with a plan to carry on it's legacy, and eventually obtain the Holy Grail for themselves. This is where Kariya comes in.

Kariya Matou was to be the one to carry on the family's torch. He was arranged to marry a woman named Aoi, and was expected to produce children with a greater magical potential. The problem was though that Kariya truly did love Aoi, and because of that he couldn't stand knowing the fact that old man Matou planned to use his children as tools. To avoid this Kariya abandons his family, and leaves Aoi to protect her and her future. Except things don't go as planned.

After Kariya left, the head of the family instead arranged Aoi's marriage to Tokiomi Tohsaka. With the Tohsaka being another powerful mage family, the marriage to Aoi would be beneficial to them as well. Any offspring they produced would have greater magical power, and would continue their families abilities into the next generation. As a part of this arrangement however, old man Matou required one thing. The two's second born.

Jump ahead to the start of Fate/Zero and we see Kariya visiting Aoi and her two daughters Rin and Sakura. Despite not being a part of the family, Kariya still loves Aoi and acts as an uncle to her children. However on this day things are different. Rin is there, and happy to see her uncle, but Sakura is no where to be seen. As it's getting closer to the Holy Grail War, old man Matou finally made his move. Sakura became his.

Angered at this fact, Kariya returns home, and witnesses a horrifying sight. Sakura being consumed by magical creatures known as "Crest Worms," which in return will boost her magical power even more. Being unable to stand knowing what will happen to Aoi's children anyway (despite him originally leaving Aoi to prevent this), Kariya agrees to take young Sakura's place in the war, and undergoes the treatment instead. This is how Kariya gets involved with the 4th War, and he summons a maddened Berserker class servant to fight for him. He hopes to win the Holy Grail to not only save Sakura, but to take revenge on Tokiomi for allowing this to happen as well.

Waver and El-Melloi -

The next (and final main) group in Zero is actually two smaller ones that are connected. Kayneth El-Melloi is a teacher at the Mage Association in Clock Tower, and Waver Velvet is his student. Waver is a young mage from a family that only just developed it's abilities, and because of that he is looked down upon by other higher ranking mages. He wants to prove himself to be something greater, but even his teacher El-Melloi doesn't think much of him. One day after class Waver catches wind of "something" going down, and uncovers the secret of the Holy Grail War for himself. Realizing his teacher is about to take part in it, Waver breaks into his room, steals the relic his teacher planned on using to summon his servant, and uses it for himself once he manages to be chosen by the Grail. This relic summons none other than the Rider Alexander the Great himself, and forces his teacher Lord El-Melloi to summon a Lancer instead. El-Melloi is joined by his soon to be wife, while Waver only has Alexander to fall back on.

The thing about Waver is... He's a stupid kid. He's gotten himself into something he can't really comprehend. His personality clashes with his servant's, and he seriously doesn't know what to do. He can't fight, he's scared of conflict, and he's very hard headed. He wants to do things his own way all the time, but he's too naive to listen to. Alexander (aka Iskandar) realizes this and ultimately does his own thing whenever possible, but the fact remains that Waver is his master. Throughout the series both characters do have an impact on each other, with Waver ultimately being changed for the better.

Blue Beard -

The real final group of Fate/Zero is the odd man out. Ryuunosuke is a crazy serial killer, and that's about as much as you need to know. He kills people for the fun of it, and while doing so is somehow chosen by the Grail to fight in the war. After slaughtering a family he uses their blood to summon none other than Gilles de Rais, and the two go on a mass killing spree for the fun of it. They aren't fighting in the war, they are just doing whatever it is they want. However, this cannot be tolerated.

The Battle of Tactics:

Unlike most battle royale style "killing games," the war in Fate/Zero is not the same. Instead of out right attacking each other, and battling to the death, it's more like a game of chess. Each person in the war wants to win it, but to do so they need to outsmart the other players. Considering they only know basic information about each other, and their servant's class name, their actual skills and abilities are unknown. Simply running into battle without a plan is a great way to get themselves killed, so critical thinking and trickery becomes key to survival.

Throughout the series we get to learn more about each participant in the war, and we also get to see their plans get laid out and eventually put into action. Kiritsugu has Maiya helping him in the shadows, so she already puts him at an advantage. Kotomine's servant is unique in multiple ways, and the fact that he's working with Tokiomi has remained a secret. Waver gets to see a lot of events unfold from the sidelines as he learns more about the world and himself, and his teacher is able to use his many connections to research the others involved in the war. Kariya has power on his side, and has his targets set on Tokiomi, while crazy serial killer has "fun" in the background until he can't go unnoticed any longer. Everyone has their own goals, and by constantly switching between the characters we get to see the grand scheme of things. We get to see what one character is planning in advance, and then the results of his actions as the others try to deal with it. Then you have other characters setting up their moves well in advance, with those plans coming into play exactly at the right moment. It's a battle of wits between multiple parties, and as the viewer you get to understand it all and see exactly how things fall into place. Waver himself is in this very same situation, but he is powerless to do anything about it. It doesn't take him long to realize he has little hope of winning the war, but he is smart enough to understand what others have done to work towards that goal. This is something that will eventually come back into play when Fate/Zero is revisited... But that's a story for another time.

Although it takes awhile for Fate/Zero to get going, once it does it turns into a roller coaster ride that never stops. The first half of the series takes it's time to set up the pieces in this chess game, while the second half is where all of these plans come into play. At this point characters are forced to constantly change and adapt to their new situations, and only those will the most knowledge can come out on top. While some characters will prevail and typically come out on top, others find themselves being manipulated into doing exactly what the others want. What it ultimately comes down to is, is the plan they are carrying out really a plan of their own accord? Or are they actually being used by someone else? Sometimes the answer reveals itself after it's already too late.

Should You Watch It:

The real question is, why SHOULDN'T you watch it? Really if you'll like the series or not all depends on your own taste. If you're into mind games/battles of wit, battle royales, and crazy dramatic storylines with tons of plot twists with a great cast of characters... Then there's a really good chance you'll love Fate/Zero. It does have a slow start and is a bit hard to follow at first, but that's mainly because as an anime adaptation of a novel series, there's only so much that can be covered. Also mix in the fact that Zero was created with people who already played Stay Night in mind, there's other things that may simply go over newcomer's heads right off the bat. That's why I took the time to explain the basics here, as well as who these characters are. There are specific parts of each character's story that are glossed over in Fate/Zero, but with this post I basically filled in most of those blanks. Other parts of the story really does know Fate/Stay Night knowledge to fully grasp, but for the time being it's fine. Overall Zero does work pretty well as a prequel to the series, but it's really something you'll want to return to later on. On another note, the animation by Ufotable is simply amazing here, and it's easily one of the most detailed anime series to date. Of course Ufotable has only gotten better since the release of Zero, but Zero still outranks most other series on the market. There's a reason the follow up  "Fate/Stay Night Unlimited Blade Works" is often called "Unlimited Budget Works," and that all really began here.

That being said, you do have to understand that Zero is just the intro to the greater Fate storyline, and it leaves things off in a way that gets viewers ready for what come's next. It does tell a complete story of it's events and characters, but you really don't want to stop there. Trust me. The Fate series is well worth the time and effort it takes to get into, with even the low points of the series still being entertaining in their own way. Of course those series also take place on different timelines, so it's perfectly understandable if you choose to ignore them and only focus on the "main" path. So yeah, what are you waiting for? Go give it a chance! Even if it doesn't hook you from the get go, push through and wait until part two to judge it. You'll thank me later. (Or not.)
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Saturday, February 22, 2020

Ys: The Oath in Felghana - Voice Acting Update

Well this was a surprise! When looking through my recent updated Steam games, I came across something strange. Ys: The Oath in Felghana which was originally released back in 2012 had received an update. Now it's not completely uncommon for old games to get minor patches as newer hardware rolls out and what not, but this time that wasn't the case. Instead the new update actually brings over the console version's voice acting and soundtrack! This was the biggest features missing from the Steam release, and something many fans of the original game have been asking for for years. While it's absence might not have been a deal breaker, it left a noticeable hole in all of the story sections of the game. Well, thankfully that is no more.

This update is the newest in a series of updates that Xseed has been releasing for nearly the entire Ys series on PC. Not too long ago even Ys VIII received a major update that not only increased the game's performance and graphics, but also added a local co-op mode to the game. Looking further back and the same treatment was made to Trails of Cold Steel I and II where they added a lot more voice acting than what the original Japanese release featured. Heck they even patched up their original localization of Trails in the Sky FC, and added some extra features to the PC release! These improvements are going above and beyond what is required of them, and it's really great to see. They care about their licenses, and are willing to go the extra mile.

So anyway, what are you waiting for? If you're one of the people who avoided getting the PC release of Ys because of the lack of voice acting, or if you just haven't played it in awhile... Now's the perfect time to jump in. Thanks Xseed!
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Thursday, February 20, 2020

Animal Crossing New Horizons Direct

Today was the long awaited Animal Crossing: New Horizons Nintendo Direct, and with it came a lot of new information for this game that's releasing surprisingly soon. Since there is so much to cover, I figured I'd give you guys the bullet points to keep this simple. Here's a run down of what's new:
  •  Choosing an island. When you begin a new game you have multiple islands to choose from. Their layouts will be shown to you just as they were in New Leaf, and you can also choose where your island is located on the globe. This means seasons will be updated to reflect your location, and better match where you live in real life. In the northern hemisphere Summer will occur in months such as June, while the southern hemisphere will be starting it's Winter months instead.
  • Small Islands have been added. These small areas can be visited by accessing your air port and serve as a way to gather materials without worry. You can cut down trees, harvest fruit, pick up flowers, etc without having to alter your own island.
  • You can now choose where villagers move in. Yes, gone are the days of random villagers moving in over top of your flowers and user created side walks!
  • You can physically see where town projects will be built. In Animal Crossing New Leaf you were able to choose where some buildings and town facilities were built, but you didn't have complete control. These projects would be built close to the area you chose, and sometimes they would land somewhere you didn't expect. Like over top of your trees. Now this can no longer happen as you have control over where they will be placed in the world.
  • To go along with this point, major buildings will not be unlocked by default. Like in New Leaf the island will be upgraded with new places to visit as you progress through the game.
  • Homes now have an editor mode where you can freely drag and drop furniture, and even fine tune what is hanging on your walls. This is similar to what was seen in the Animal Crossing mobile game, as well as the 3DS spin off Happy Room Academy.
  • A smart phone app connected to the Nintendo app will also be released to make things smoother. This app will feature a keyboard for in game chat, as well as the ability to scan in user created patterns for use in your game. These patterns can be applied to a wide verity of objects, including clothing and furniture. It also supports QR codes from previous Animal Crossing games so you can bring your old creations over.
  • Clothing items now have their own menu and no longer take up space. Similar to other simulation games, you can now open up a character wardrobe and plan your outfits as you see fit.
  • Holidays and other events will return to New Horizons but in a new form. The game will receive free updates and have season events pushed through said updates throughout the game's life cycle. This is similar to what we've seen in the mobile release, and is a pretty common practice for games with online features.
  • Land development. Yep this is a completely new one! Along with tools to create your own paths, patches of grass, dirt, sand, etc, land development tools can also be unlocked. With these tools you can carve out rivers, ponds, and modify the land below your feet. Cliffs can be built or reshaped, water falls can be formed, and you can follow all of this up with your own ramps and bridges to make getting around the island even easier. You can shape this island however you wish, and put your creativity to the test.
  • and much, MUCH, more! This game is huge, and it's something that will continue to expand over it's life time.
For more information, check out the official Nintendo Direct below:

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Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Mega Man Battle Network Inspired "One Step From Eden" Coming to Switch

Good news for those of you who have been following One Step From Eden! Today a Nintendo Switch trailer for the game dropped out of nowhere, and along with it came a release date of March 26! This is pretty unexpected news, and it's great to see. For those who have not heard of it, the game is a rogue like, but with a twist. Rather than being your typical dungeon crawler, or platforming action game, this one is actually inspired by the Mega Man Battle Network series.

Using a very similar grid like system, and special attacks in "card" form, One Step From Eden takes this familiar formula and amps it up to the extreme. Instead of being stuck on a 3x3 grid, we are now on a 4x4 one, and instead of using single special attacks the game focuses more on crazy combos. It's was a unique and fun system back in the early 2000s, and One Step From Eden looks even better. Don't believe me? Check out the trailer now:

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Monday, February 17, 2020

Anime Monday - Goblin Slayer

I'm a bit conflicted this week. When Goblin Slayer was chosen I felt like I should skip it. It's against my own rules to do so, but I really don't have a whole lot to say about this one. There's no grand story about how I discovered it (other than seeing people talk about it online), and at the time of me writing this, there isn't too much out for it. It's had a single season run, with basically the entire story still being confined to the original light novel. So what I can tell you guys about this series is pretty limited at this time, and I have to be careful not to spoil anything too major. That being said, this is something I want to return to later on when more seasons are out, but for now I'll do what I can. This is what Goblin Slayer is.

Kill ALL Goblins:

The premise of Goblin Slayer starts out pretty basic. We have a young girl called "Priestess," and she's starting her life as an adventurer. On her first day of the job she teams up with some people to form a party, and the group set off to kill their targets -- some goblins. Goblins are these little creatures that really don't pose much of a threat. They are considered low end monsters, and are perfect for newcomer adventurers. The whole set up is a lot like a typical RPG with a guild hall or quest board. Adventurers come here, accept quests, go out and do said quests, power up, and then return to claim their rewards. Goblins are just the intro to this eventual loop adventurers will find themselves in, and so the party sets out without a care in the world. Yeah, let's just say things don't go as planned.

While goblins may be weak, these things are not to be underestimated. When being fought one on one they are nothing, but when you have a group of them, things change completely. As this first quest is to clear a goblin's nest, the place is completely infested with them, and it doesn't take long for the small party to realize just how big of a mistake they've made. This is where the show reveals its true colors. Goblins are brutal.

After slaughtering nearly all of the characters, and "having their way" with the females of the group, the only one to get away unharmed is none other than the Priestess herself. She is eventually saved by a knight in full armor, and later learns he is known as the "Goblin Slayer." Despite being a skilled fighter, Goblin Slayer only kills goblins as he knows the true horrors of what these creatures are capable of. He kills them without mercy, and isn't opposed to splitting baby goblin's heads open as they coward in fear in the corner. He frees the human women the goblins use for... Reasons... And makes sure no goblin makes it out alive. The things he does as he slaughters these creatures might seem demented to some, but in reality it's necessary..

Joining Up With the Goblin Slayer:

Despite having a horrible first day on the job, Priestess does not back down from being an adventurer. Instead she decides to join up with Goblin Slayer, and resolves herself to doing whatever it takes to kill these demons. Of course Goblin Slayer himself is used to working alone, but eventually he does agree to take Priestess with him. Afterwords the two start taking on multiple jobs revolving around goblins, and this is what leads them to meeting the other main characters of the series as well.

A lot of people in this world still discount goblins as being nothing more than weak creatures, but throughout the series we see more people come to understand the truth. One lead character in particular doesn't think much about Goblin Slayer or the goblins he kills, but the moment she comes across one of her own chained naked to a wall, she too understands just how horrible these creatures are. She sees why they must die, and why Goblin Slayer does what he does. The goblins are twisted, and the show does not stray away from showing just how bad they really are. This is a huge part of what makes Goblin Slayer so worth watching, as you never really know what to expect out of these things. There's a real danger in each episode, and the constant threat that a character might die (or have something even worse happen to them) keeps you on your seat. That feeling of unease is what will eventually push you to continue the series, and when it's all over you'll be left wanting more. And that's where we are today.

Should You Watch It:

Like with many series, this is not a show for everyone. Goblin Slayer is very dark, and very violent. Every episode contains extreme cases of blood and gore, with body parts and organs flying pretty often. The way Goblin Slayer kills some of his targets is pretty inhumane, but what the goblins themselves do is even worse. While there is no full on nudity (as parts are either not detailed or hidden in shadow), the series does contain a lot of strong sexual content as well. We see rape scenes happen, with only some camera tricks to really hide things from happening. Still it's graphic enough that it might disturb some viewers, and it could keep others from watching it at all. The good news is that most scenes like this happen in the early episodes of the show, but that doesn't stop later scenes from being disturbing as well. Often goblins have nude women tied up or chained to a wall, and it becomes pretty obvious what has happened to them during their stay there. Basically the show doesn't pull any of it's punches, and continues to be aimed at adults rather than trying to tone things down.

Putting that aside though, the show is really good. It's about a man who had something horrible happen in his life, and has now set out to try to make the world a better place. It's about the challenges he faces as he takes on his target, and the stories of the people he meets on his way. As the series progresses you get to learn more about everyone and their back story, but of course there's only so much of that in season 1. Thankfully season 2 is on it's way however, so we won't have to wait too much longer to see what happens next. So yeah, if this is the type of story you're into, then it's well worth checking out.
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Saturday, February 15, 2020

Ben's Beginnings: First Tactical RPG

Today I came across something unexpected. I left my home this morning expecting to spend a couple of hours waiting at my car dealership while I waited for my oil change to finish, and then I wanted to head on over to the mall to look for some supplies for C2E2 at the end of the month. Well, for the first time in about four years I got my oil change taken care of in less than 20 minutes, and when I went over to the mall I found something I didn't expect. A brand new Slackers had opened up since I had been there last. Usually Slackers does have some pretty cool classic games for sale, but up until now every store I've visited had a pretty small selection. This one though? Walls completely packed full! They had everything, PS1, PSP games (AND UMD Movies), SEGA Genesis titles, pretty much every Wii game released, a large selection of Game Cube games, and a full wall of PlayStation 2 and 3 games. That's where I came across a new copy of this lesser known release:

Shining Force EXA. About eight years ago now I did quite a lot of research into this one. When Project X Zone released on the Nintendo 3DS, EXA was one of the series included in the crossover. Because of that, I wanted to know as much as I could about the characters before I played, but I had no way of actually playing the real game. So YouTube and other articles about the game became my best friend, and by the end of it all I had at least somewhat of an idea who these characters were. Still I wanted to play the game for myself, but considering it was expensive and no longer being sold... It just wasn't happening. Until today that is.

At first I wasn't sure if I should buy it, but considering I may never get this chance again, I eventually caved. Well, that's part of the reason. Before I actually bought it I asked a friend of mine what he thought, and his response was more than enough for me. Anyway... Finally after all this time I'll get a chance to play it for myself, and see the full story of these characters unfold. That being said, this isn't my first run in with the Shining Force series. In fact although this game is an action hack n slash (by the company who developed games like Rune Factory none the less), the original Shining Force series was a Tactical Role Playing Game series, and it was the very first one I had played in my life. Not only that, it's a game that shocked me as a kid, and hope to still one day go back and actually finish. This is my story of Shining Force.

In the past I've told the story of how I got my Dream Cast multiple times, but I never really went into one of my favorite games for the system. Yes Sonic Adventure 1 and 2 took up most of my time, along with Crazy Taxi, but there was one other that I would constantly return to for years with both friends and family. That game was none other than SEGA Smash Pack Vol 1. This collection of SEGA games had popular titles like Sonic The Hedgehog, Streets of Rage 2, Vectorman, Virtua Cop, etc, but it also had ones I had never heard of like Shining Force. At the time I didn't think much of this game, but when I started hearing my friend talk about this new "Final Fantasy Tactics" game his parents had bought him it made me want to give it a try as well. That wasn't going to happen though, so instead I went to the next best thing I knew of -- Shining Force.

Going into that game I didn't know what to expect. I had never played an RPG that wasn't Pokemon, and I didn't understand the whole chess like gameplay. So I started up with no expectations, and started working my way through the story. It shocked me to say the least.

It might not sound like much now days, but Shining Force was the first time I had ever seen a character actually die in a game. Sure there was Zero in Mega Man X1, but we rebuilt him in X2. Shining Force on the other hand had an actual human character get killed at the start of the game, and it's a part of the reason you're sent out on your adventure. This was a completely new concept for me, and afterwords I didn't know what to expect out of the story. I was meeting characters, they were joining up with me, I was seeing their stories unfold -- this wasn't something I was used to, and it made me feel like I was on an adventure. An adventure I sadly wasn't able to save. Yeah, memory cards? Who needs them! I had one filled with Sonic Adventure 1 and Crazy Taxi, and another filled with Sonic Adventure 2. Shining Force wasn't something I was able to fit in, and because of that I never finished. Didn't stop me from playing it a lot though.

I still remember coming home after school and starting it up. Even though I knew who would die and what not, it didn't ruin the experience for me. It was such a different experience than what I was used to, that I didn't mind restarting. Also did I mention you got to name your own character? First time I got to do that as well. As for the actual gameplay, although it is what introduced me to TRPGs as a whole, it wasn't exactly the same as what I would get used to later on.

Unlike series like Fire Emblem which typically are linear missions with dialogue sections in between, Shining Force mixes classic style JRPGs with this tactical gameplay. Outside of battle you get to explore towns, talk with characters, and do pretty much anything else you would in an RPG, but once you got into a battle everything switched over to the standard strategy gameplay these types of games are known for. Your characters are placed on the map, the enemies tend to be spread out, and then you take turns moving your guys to accomplish some goal or to kill everyone. Different types of characters have advantages over others, and when you get into a fight you get to watch a mini battle scene with characters standing on opposite sides of the screen as they attacked. I thought this was pretty cool at the time, but some of the high fantasy stuff did bug me. It wasn't really my thing (and still isn't my favorite), but it didn't stop me from playing.

Eventually I would give up on the game though. Restarting non stop ended up being too much, and I stopped caring for the slow paced gameplay. This is what would make it hard for me to get into games like Fire Emblem later on (especially considering you couldn't explore towns in Fire Emblem), but as I got older even that began to change. Now days TRPGs tend to be some of my favorites, with Fire Emblem, Super Robot Wars, and even SD Gundam being some of my favorites to play. While I can't really say that Shining Force is what convinced me to keep going with these types of games, it was my introduction to this genre as a whole, and something I think back to pretty often. Maybe I'll go back to it later on once I finish EXA.
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Thursday, February 13, 2020

Fire Emblem Three Houses - Side Story Out Now

It's finally here, the last round of DLC for Fire Emblem Three Houses. With this DLC not only do we get some new quests for the main story line, costumes, and various bug fixes and touch ups, but we also get a brand new side story! As announced previously, this side story focuses on a secret "house" located deep underground.

The story itself is separate from the main plot of Three Houses, but upon finishing it the characters and new areas become unlocked in the main section of the game as well. Because of this setup, the new story is accessed from the game's main menu, and it uses it's own save file. As long time players have already guessed, the story does take place during the first half of Three Houses, and it must be completed before you reach Part 2 if you'd like to bring the characters and new content into your main save. This is due to some pretty obvious reasons, but that's about all I can say about it. On top of this old characters hare received new supports for the newly added cast, so you have plenty more conversations and character development to witness on top of the already massive amounts of scenes the base game had.

Now with that being said, what are you waiting for? Go check it out for yourself!
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Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Pokemon Home - Out on All Devices

Yesterday night Pokemon Home went up on the Switch without warning. As I've covered in the past, this new app serves as a replacement for the old Pokemon Bank, and allows you to store all of your Pokemon from nearly every game in the series on it. Of course older generation games like titles released on the GBA and DS can only transfer forward to the 3DS to make use of the Bank, and now the same can be said for going to Bank to Home. In other words, once you transfer Pokemon from Bank to Home, or convert your entire Bank to Pokemon Home, then there's no sending them back. Once your Pokemon are on Home however, you're free to interact with them however you like both in app, and in the Pokemon titles released for Switch. Of course this too has limits.

While Pokemon Home allows you to freely view, sort, trade, and read Pokedex entries of all Pokemon you own, which Pokemon games they can be sent to depends on where they come from. Pokemon from the Let's Go series can be traded freely between Let's Go Pikachu and Let's Go Eevee, but once they are brought into Sword or Shield they are converted into a Sword/Shield Pokemon. Sword/Shield Pokemon cannot be sent back to the Let's Go games, so they will forever remain in use only for Sword/Shield -- and any other Pokemon game that is to follow. This is how it has always worked, so it's nothing new for long time fans, but those who are new to the series will have to learn to be careful if they'd like to keep their games separated.

That being said, the app can now be downloaded on the Switch itself, mobile devices, and the Pokemon Bank app on the 3DS can now be updated to allow for trading to Home. This transfer system works by using your Nintendo account as a base, but if you'd like to trade Pokemon between Nintendo accounts from Pokemon Bank this can be done as well by using a password. As for those of you who would rather not even fool with the 3DS and trading Pokemon over, a simple "transfer all" option is available as well. This will send all Pokemon stored in Bank to Home automatically, and you don't even have to lift a finger. Of course this also means those Pokemon will never be able to return to the 3DS games, so think carefully before you decide to do this option.

And well, that about covers it! Now's your chance to upgrade to the new system, and finally get some of your favorite Pokemon back into Sword and Shield. Sadly not all Pokemon have been added to the Switch games at the time of me writing this article, but roughly 30 have been added back in with this new Home update. These new Pokemon include the Generation 1 starters, and even some of the legendaries from past gens. It's not a whole lot of additions overall, but it's a start.
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Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Dreams - Full Version Update Out Now

Good news for all you Dreamers out there. Today the "full game" update for PS4 Dreams went live. This update brings a batch of new features to the previous early access of the game, and lets us check out the full "story mode" ahead of the game's official launch later this week. This day has been a long time coming, and soon the rest of the world will get to experience what you guys have created.

As for those of you new to PS4 Dreams... Why not check out some of Media Molecule's videos? Since Dreams is a creation tool, it's not something you can easily describe to someone without showing it to them. The possibilities are nearly endless in Dreams, and because of that it has something for everyone. You can create, music, movies, novels, classic styled arcade games, escape rooms, horror games, platformers, RPGs, racing games, walking simulators, and so on. If you can Dream it, you can create it... And if you can't Dream it for yourself, that's where the community and last year's beta comes into play. Dreams is already populated with thousands of amazing creations, and now it's just up to you to discover them -- later this week that is.

If you want to know more about Dreams, I also recommend checking out the YouTube channel Project Genesis. This guy is pretty great, and has spent the last year covering a lot of the amazing creations out there. If you want to know more about what Dreams is and what you can make with it -- his channel is the one you want to watch.

Check out two of his newer videos below (I really recommend the horror one):

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Monday, February 10, 2020

Anime Monday - Deadman Wonderland

Slit the throat of reason and reality. Cut myself and scream for their insanity. Wake up to this nightmare that will never end. The main attraction of this twisted master plan ~

Deadman Wonderland was a series I listed as one of my favorites from the last decade; however, that's not the entire story of what this series is. In fact it's a show I would strongly recommend, but at the same time I'm not completely sure if I should. You see, this is sadly one of those series where things were altered slightly, and it cuts off before the next major story arc begins. In other words, it's not a finished story, and it most likely never will be. So that's where the manga comes in! But I'm getting ahead of myself here. Despite all of this, I still feel like the anime is worth checking out, and how I came across it is something I'll never forget. It's what came of my childhood finally returning.

The Return:

Back in 2012 something really, REALLY weird happened. April Fools day landed on a Sunday, and unknown to everyone watching, Adult Swim was about to pull something over on us. As the late night channel block began to start up like usual, viewers soon realized something was off. Instead of Bleach coming on like it should, instead the opening of some sort of movie began to play. Yeah it was pretty obvious that this was just some joke before the real show started, but what came next is what no one expected. The camera panned out, and sitting in his chair was none other than the robot TOM from Toonami -- the after school and afternoon anime block many of us grew up with. As if nothing had happened, TOM starts up Toonami, and away we went watching anime just like old times.

Toonami was something special back in the day. It was the Cartoon Network block that introduced millions of people in the West to anime, and is one of the major reasons it became so popular outside of Japan. Up until then shows like Dragon Ball Z were rarely shown and were on odd channels, or we'd only see things like Speed Racer and Pokemon. Toonami is what grouped a lot of major hits together, and helped their popularity spread. Series like Gundam Wing fully introduced the West to the series and continues to sell a lot of merchandise outside of Japan despite being gone for roughly 20 years. Sailor Moon and Tenchi are two other series that aired on the block in the early days, and both of those are still popular in the US as well. Then you had shows like Zoids eventually making their way here, and let's not forget all of the classic anime movies as well. Sure Toonami also aired US cartoons like Batman, Superman, Batman Beyond, Justice League, etc, but even those fit more in with what Toonami was going for. An animated block for an older audience, with a higher focus on action and story. Still anime did eventually become the main focus of Toonami, and that was something that continued until the block died forever. That was a sad day...

Jumping back to 2012, the Toonami April Fools joke brought fans back to their childhoods, and it also attracted some serious attention from higher ups at Cartoon Network itself. They realized just how much fans wanted this block to return, and this joke of theirs became the perfect way to test the waters. Eventually the numbers came in, and they decided to give the go ahead on a full on Toonami revival -- something that continues to air every week end to this day. And that's where Deadman Wonderland comes in.

The first day Toonami returned I wasn't able to stay up too late because I had work next day, but I did watch some of Bleach (which was the first show to come on). What came next however had me more interested, but I couldn't stay up to continue watching. It was Deadman Wonderland, and what I saw had me hooked instantly -- although it also had me concerned for the network block as well. You see Toonami was now airing on Adult Swim at night, and because of that they didn't have to censor their shows to suit their after school audience. The first thing I saw on the preview for Deadman Wonderland however was exactly that -- censorship! Words were being beeped out, and light beams and dark shadows were being used to cover things up. I didn't understand why they were doing this, but when I finally sat down to watch the full thing uncut on Hulu... I got it... I saw exactly why it needed to be censored, and still to this day it kinda shocks me. This is what Deadman Wonderland really is.

The Story of Deadmen in their so called Wonderland:

Deadman Wonderland starts out pretty typical for a high school themed series. We get to see our main character named Ganta hanging out with his friends in class, and we're quickly introduced to these other characters. Nothing seems out of the ordinary at first, but as the class actually begins something changes. A strange red figure appears outside the windows of the classroom, and the next thing they know everything goes dark. When Ganta awakes following the chaos he's greeted with a sight he'll never forget. The entire room was died dark red with blood. Body parts are thrown around, and no matter where he looks he sees nothing but gore. That and one of his best friend's head as the strange figure holds it by the hair. Ganta of course reacts the only way he knows how by freaking out, but before he himself can even move the "Red Man" takes a red seed like object and shoves it into Ganta's chest -- fusing with him. This is the last thing Ganta remembers before passing out.

Shortly after this insane incident, Ganta finds himself on trial for the murder of his class. He's appointed a lawyer who promises to help him in any way he can, but the truth is he's being set up to fail. A fake video is leaked showing Ganta confessing to slicing up his female friend because he was interested in her insides (the graphic description contains language that couldn't be said on TV, which is why Toonami beeped it), and that's enough to get him thrown in jail for life. Or rather, thrown into a special jail -- the Deadman Wonderland. As for why the lawyer would do this too him? Well it's because he actually runs Deadman Wonderland. Shocker.

So, what is it? What is Deadman Wonderland? It's actually a theme park. Families come here to enjoy the rides, carnival games, and do whatever else you'd expect out of this kinda place, but what makes it special is the fact that it's ran by the prisoners that live there. They put on shows for the visitors, play games and compete in contests that the visitors can watch, and they "die" for the prisoner's amusement. It's all good though, because it's just CGI. Right? Yeah, there's no way those people being splattered allover, or impaled by spikes can be real. They wouldn't show the public... Or would they?

It doesn't take Ganta long to realize what kind of place Deadman Wonderland really is. Everyone there is on a timer. They are going to die. The only way to survive is to eat the horrible "candy" like object they are given, and to continue getting them they must partake in the different events the park holds. All of these events are games of death, and if the convicts don't get killed playing the game, they'll still die if they don't come out on top and win. This is the reason the prisoners put on these "shows" for their audiences, and what keeps everyone in line. If you escape you die, and if you do nothing you die. There's no way out of this place, and Ganta is too weak of a person to be there. Thankfully Shiro is there for him.

Shrio is a strange girl. She appears seemingly out of nowhere, and claims to be Ganta's friend. She wears a skin tight white body suit, and keeps gloves over her hands. While it's not shown in the actual series right away, from the opening (which was blacked out on Toonami since it contained nudity) we see her body is fully covered in scars. We don't know what happened to her, or why she likes Ganta so much, but she becomes the main reason that he is even able to survive the prison. She protects him from traps as he plays their "games," and is there to stand up for him when others try to mess with him. Ganta doesn't seem all that grateful for it, but she continues to help him even so. She likes Ganta, and will do anything for him. But again, who is she? And why does she know Ganta?

The Real Deadman Wonderland:

After the show gets past its intro, Ganta is eventually brought into the real Deadman Wonderland -- a hidden cell block that's located deep underground. This is where the red "seed" implanted in Ganta during the opening is awakened, and he realizes his new powers that he gained from it. By using his own blood Ganta is able to form projectiles and shoot them, and because of this he gains a permanent spot at what is known as "Carnival Corpse." This is the real reason Ganta was sent to Deadman Wonderland, and it is now his new reality.

Carnival Corpse is an underground "game show" where different convicts are forced to fight each other. (Possibly to the death.) Each person here is supplied with all the "candies" they need to survive, but the price is having to continue playing this so called game. People bet on the fights, just like in real life, and winners end up pretty rich to say the least. Every "Deadman" fighting has some sorta special power related to their blood, and because of that you never really know what will happen in these fights. While the fight winners themselves are rewarded as well, the real prize here is not having to go through the loser's game. This is where things become... Horrifying...

If you lose in Carnival Corpse you must spin a wheel. Whatever that wheel lands on, is what will happen to you. What will you lose this time? An eye? A leg? Maybe your arm? Only the wheel can tell. This is why you don't want to lose, and Ganta gets to see first hand how it all works.

I normally don't have to say this, but I want to make this perfectly clear. Deadman Wonderland is not a show for kids, and it's possibly not even a show for many adults. Toonami censoring the language, and using light beams and shadows was done for a very good reason, and that's because it's easily one of the crudest anime series made for TV. The English dub especially gets away with saying a lot which is normally avoided, and the violence itself holds nothing back. We see eyes being ripped form their socket, limbs being removed, body parts everywhere, people being impaled by spikes, and just a lot of blood and gory details in general. The show pushes horror as far as it can go, and that ended up being too much for what TV usually allows. But that's also what helps sell this series.

This is not an anime where everything will end up always being okay, this is one where you'll never know what happens next, and you'll fear for the character's lives. One minute you think someone will be their forever, and the next you're watching their leg melt away to the bone, and then snap in half before they die. It gets worse and worse as the series progresses, but ultimately we never get to that conclusion we were all hoping for...

Onto the Manga:

As I mentioned before I began all of this, Deadman is sadly one of those series that didn't get an ending in anime form. In fact it even begins things slightly different by ignoring a few main characters. These characters were meant to be introduced before Ganta makes his way to the underground, and would then come in after the anime's story arc to become major players in the following events. Without them being introduced though, it's easy to tell where the anime would end. Assuming you read the original manga that is. However even if you haven't read it, that doesn't stop the anime from being a good starting place.

While there are a few minor changes due to those character's missing at the start, the anime adaptation is very faithful to the source material. The way it leaves things off you can easily jump into the manga to continue without missing a beat. Sure I personally recommend that you start at the beginning again just so you can see who the removed characters were, but other than that there's not much else you need to see before moving on with the story. To put it simply, this anime is pretty much only there to sell the manga to you later, and serves as an easier way to get invested in the series. The story is good enough to get non manga readers to continue it, and it's crazy enough for even long time fans to give the animated version a chance. It's also a series that for one reason or another appeals more to the Western audience, so it might even attract non anime fans to it if they give it a chance. But again, it also depends on how much gore you can handle.

Should You Watch It (or Read):

Yes!!! If you like horror survival that is. Deadman Wonderland relies a lot on it's shock value, and if you're not into this sorta thing, then you might not even want to look at it. The opening of episode 1 alone should be enough to tell you if you want to keep going or not, and it only gets "worse" from there. That being said, it's still an interesting show that is filled with suspense and mystery, and keeps you guessing on what will happen next. The only real problem with it is the fact that it's only the start of the story, and that it may never be finished (it didn't do all that well in Japan either). Even so, I strongly recommend at least giving it a chance, and then moving onto the manga after. The anime is a great introduction, and the manga itself is a great read. All of the volumes have been officially translated and released outside of Japan, and the story itself keeps getting better as it progresses. It's one that is worth seeing through to the end. But again, that really depends on you.

Deadman Wonderland still to this day is one of my favorite horror stories to come out of Japan, and for me it became the perfect way for Toonami to make it's return. Oh, and did I mention that opening song? It's pretty great.
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