Sunday, 9 December 2012

Star Blazers: The Show that Got Me into Anime

Crew of the Yamato as well as the ship
There were so many great characters in this
For plenty of people that are into anime, there's this or that show that really got them into this type of show. Whether it was One Piece, Naruto, Dragonball, or even something much more obscure. For me that show was Star Blazers, aka Space Battleship Yamato. I remember the show being on somewhere around 6AM in my area in the early 80s, and I'd sprint down the stairs each morning to watch it.

The show was totally different from anything that I had seen before. The only other anime airing at the time was old episodes of Astro Boy every Sunday morning, and I wasn't terribly keen on that show. Meanwhile, all of the Western made cartoons that I was watching had a very different, and as far as I was concerned, boring art style. Star Blazers was totally different. The art was very unique (though later I'd learn that Leiji Matsumoto's style was very unique unto itself), and the series' story followed a massive arch. I wasn't used to such long stories being told. I'd be lucky if the show I was watching at the time was a two parter, but something that went on for 26 episodes was amazing.

There was plenty of action either from the Argo / Yamato going toe-to-toe with enemy ships, especially blasting the Wave Motion Gun, or Wildstar hopping in his fighter plane for some dogfights. The characters were pretty good too. There was the whole relationship between Nova and Wildstar, and Captain Avatar was great as a patriarch in the cast.

Captain Avatar
Captain Avatar is probably my
favorite character, probably even
more than Wildstar.
Also, there were so many themes that Star Blazer visited that I'd never seen in a cartoon before. Seeing Nova and Wildstar's feelings for one another slowly blossom was nice. What really blew me away was when Captain Avatar died after seeing the Earth one last time. It was a really sad scene, and something that I'd never experienced watching all of the usual cartoons I'd come across at that time, so it sort of shocked me that a show would kill off such a big character.

After the series ran its course it was taken off the air, and I was very, very sad because I had to go back to my usual cartoons, all of which paled in comparison to Star Blazers. It wasn't until several years later, when Robotech came along that I'd get the chance to see some more anime. Nonetheless, my interest was peaked, and I knew I had to watch this stuff whenever the opportunity presented itself. In the 90s, I'd watch Dragonball and Sailor Moon whenever it was on, and when I finally got a part time job, I started buying videos of shows that looked interesting.

The Argo firing its Wave Motion Gun.
The Argo / Yamato firing its Wave Motion Gun.
I even started to research more about Leiji Matsumoto and Star Blazers, searching out other similar series. With that, I discovered Captain Harlock, Queen Emeraldas, and Galaxy Express, all of which make up the core of my favorite anime series. Still, I have to look at Star Blazers as the most important of all the anime I've come across, at least to me, because without it who knows if I'd be as interested in the stuff as I am today.

Thursday, 6 December 2012

Vay - A Reminder of How Bad English Voice Acting Could Be in the 90s

Sandor, Pottel, and Rachel escape the volcano.
In cut scenes like this, there's plenty of terrible acting.
I decided to replay a bit of Vay on the Sega CD over the last few days, and it's really reminding me how bad the voice acting could be in video games in the mid 90s. Granted this sort of thing was in its infancy during this period. On the console front, unless you had a CD-ROM add-on, you weren't going to be exposed to much of this, and as far as PCs were concerned it was still pretty pricey to get something that could play a lot of the big CD-based games of the day. So, unless you were well off yourself, or had super amazing parents with no qualms about forking out several hundred dollars for a TurboGrafx CD or Sega CD, let alone a couple thousand for a gaming PC, you weren't going to be exposed to games with voice acting, and as such the market was understandably small.

Nonetheless, wow, Vay's voice acting is really bad. The narrator sounds like someone jokingly impersonating his grandfather, and the forced emotion from every other character is terrible. Thankfully, cut scenes with actual spoken dialogue are far and few between, but when it comes along it's a sight to see.

I'm sure if I'd actually played the game when it first came out, I'd be a bit more impressed, but as it stands I'm not. Instead Vay reminds me of just how bad English voice acting was in gaming, as well as anime for that matter, during the mid 90s. It's come a really long way, especially as far as games are concerned. Put Vay up against Dragon Age or Final Fantasy XIII, and the difference is night and day.

Other than that, the game is reasonably enjoyable. I do like the translation liberties that Working Designs took while localizing it, adding some interesting humor to the mix. I'll probably try and see it through to the end. In a lot of ways, the game is very typical of JRPGs of the period, but it's actually challenging (largely thanks to unexpected difficulty spikes), and I kinda like that.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

The Original Slayers Anime Is Pretty Good!

Lina, Gourry, and the gang.
Lina and company hanging out together.
It's been over a decade since the last time I've sat down and watched some episodes from the Slayers anime. The show is one of my favorite series to run in the mid 90s, and it still holds up really well now. Slayers followed the adventures of Lina Inverse, a gifted sorceress, and her friends as they traveled around getting into all sorts of adventures. It's a good mix of action and comedy that stays consistently entertaining throughout the show. There have been plenty of follow-up seasons and stories in the Slayers universe, but it was fun to return to the very first season of the series.

I think my first exposure to the series was from an issue of Gamers Republic in the anime section that they'd have towards the back of the magazine. There was a small write up there discussing the show, and my interest was peaked. After that I started to see mentions of the show every now and then on message boards, so I finally got around to watching the series, on VHS no less!

One definitely needs to do a good job with their suspension of disbelief while watching the show, though, because there are some pretty convenient plot twists like Gourry just so happening to have the Sword of Light, or Lina having access to the Giga Slave spell all of a sudden. There's also stuff like the more or less meaningless deaths of Zolf and Rodimus, which seemed like a really contrived means of trying to make the audience a little bit sad. If you can look past stuff like that, then Slayers can be pretty entertaining.

What makes the show for me are the characters, as I really like Lina and Gourry. They have good chemistry together, and both of them can make me laugh. There are plenty of other interesting people to make appearances in the series as well, but these two are at its core, and make or break the show for me.

At some point, I really should make some time to check out all of the seasons that followed these original stories in the series, but for now I've been happy just to revisit Slayers.

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Phantasy Star Zero: Some Early Impressions

The box art without text over top

For the last week or so I've been playing some Phantasy Star Zero, and it's a pretty fun little distraction. It has plenty of loot to hunt down, mags to grow, interesting characters, and it's really good for some pick up and play action. About the only thing that I really don't like about it is that the camera is kind of blah. I'm also terrible at using spears, but that's more me than the game.

Anyway, after playing for about seven hours, so far so good. I'm playing as a Newman right now, and their story is pretty neat. It means I have to talk a fair bit with Sarisa because we're in cahoots as we investigate the humans, and complete our people's mission. It seems a straightforward story so far, but the characters bring a lot to the table. They're darn charming. I've spent most of my time adventuring with Kai and Sarisa, and like them quite a bit. Kai is very easy going, with only a very subtle bit of cockiness to him. He seems the sort that would be fun to hang out with.  Meanwhile, Sarisa is very kind and just wants to do her best to contribute to the team. It's hard not to like her.

Party running around the city
It's actually pretty hard
to find decent screenshots
for this game. >_<
I've spent a lot of my time just wandering around different zones as they're opened up, smacking around monsters and collecting loot. There have been a few useful items that I've found in my travels but most of them have either been used to feed my mag so it can grow big and strong, or sold off at the market for profit. It makes for a nice way to kill 15 or 20 minutes here and there while still being productive in the game. I can see this somewhat breaking the experience, though, because my character has leveled up quite a bit by doing this, and some of the recent bosses I've faced seemed a little on the easy side. I can't see this changing, though, unless I hold off on farming, but it's what I enjoy most about the game, so I'll need to somehow reconcile having easy bosses to accommodate the enjoyment I get from mindlessly smashing monsters.

In any case, I've enjoyed the game quite a bit up to this point. My character has a snazzy claw that she's using now to tear up monsters, and her mag is slowly getting stronger. I'll need to consult a guide to see how I want to go about evolving the thing, though. Right now it allows for a strong charge attack, but it looks like there a bunch of other interesting attacks available that could be worth exploring. In a lot of ways, it feels like I'm playing a portable PSO on the DS. Now if only the handheld supported WPA so that I could actually try the game online...

Monday, 26 November 2012

Hurray! I Survived the Steam Sale!

It may not be as insane as the summer and winter sales, but this year's autumn sale ran surprisingly long, or at least longer than I remember the thing going in years past, and had quite a few really tempting deals. Thankfully I behaved myself though, only getting Skyrim on this go around.

I'd been holding out on that one for ages because I don't like paying $60 for a game. They had it for half off, which doesn't happen often so I finally capitulated and picked it up. For now I'm going to skip on the Dawnguard stuff because after talking with friends and reading up on it some more, it sounds like it's a bit of a tough one to justify getting. Maybe if I was into all of the daedric stuff in a big way it might be worthwhile, but the expansion wasn't really winning me over, even at ten bucks.

Skyrim itself is a ton of fun so far. A lot has been tweaked for this game, but some of the stuff I like include how the combat feels a little smoother, and faster paced than previous games, the visuals are great, and haven't been giving me any problems like obnoxious draw-in (which I found Oblivion suffered from quite a bit), and, as always, there's tons to explore.

I'm not going to go into a full review of the game here, as I'm only about ten hours into it right now, but I did want to mention that I'm enjoying it. But yeah, really happy that I abstained from gorging myself on deals at this sale. Now I just have to do the same or better at the winter sale, which can't be too far off.

Sunday, 25 November 2012

The Weekend Anime Post

Main Characters

It's still technically the weekend for me for another two hours, so I'm squeezing this in before it's too late!  Just like the last couple of weeks, I've been keeping myself busy with a fair amount of shows.  I finished off watching Gosick, and am keeping up to date on Say I Love You and My Little Monster with my wife.  Also, I checked out a couple more episodes of Blast of Tempest.  So, I'm going to hop right into things.

For Say I Love You, I'm still annoyed at Yamato because he obviously doesn't have a clue how his behavior is upsetting Mei.  Aiko had a chat with him about it, and he apologized, but we'll see if he changes for the long term.  Aiko and Asami are doing their best to help Mei through everything, but she's obviously having a tough time right now.  It also looks like there's a new guy getting introduced into the mix named Kai who seems to be interested in Mei, or at least the little decoration for her mobile phone.  Hopefully he'll be competition for Yamato.

My Little Monster was pretty good as the show took place during a school festival and Shizuku started to figure out that she's a bit too serious and cold to the point where she's upsetting her friends.  She's also slowly starting to sort herself out with Haru, emphasis on the word "slowly".  I figure it'll be quite a few episodes more before they're officially a couple at this rate.  Also, I thought Natsume was cute when she was talking with Mii-chan about how Shizuku was so cold to her.  She's quite the sensitive girl.

As far as Gosick goes, I'm glad that I finally finished the series.  While the first half of it was a lot of relatively short stories with a Poirot-lite feel to them, the second half started to explain Victorique's origins more, as well as the plans her father had for her.  The show did take some liberties with history, plunging things into war during the 1920s, as opposed to when World War II actually started, but I was willing to let it slide.  Finding out what happened to Victorique's mother, as well as the true nature of Brian Roscoe was very interesting, and seeing Victorique and Kujo separated and eventually reunited was nice as well.  (The part where they reunite, anyway, obviously the other part was kind of sad)

Finally, I watched a couple more episodes of Blast of Tempest, which I'm starting to like quite a bit.  I've learned a little more about how Yoshino and Mahiro met, and Mahiro was a little brat as a kid, which would help explain his attitude now.  Also, we're meeting more of the enemies the two will face, as well as seeing just what kind of power Hakaze actually has.  (She destroyed a mountain!)  For all her attempts to stop Samon, though, it looks like the guy may have a trick up his sleeve for dealing with the girl, and making sure she doesn't interfere with his plans.

Anyway, that about wraps things up for this week's anime.  More in about seven days! ^_^

Friday, 23 November 2012

Still No Dragon's Dogma for PC, Missed Opportunity?

After a bit of a Twitter mishap Capcom's crack team of spin doctors have come out and emphasized that the company still has no plans for a PC version of Dragon's Dogma. This came about after someone tweeted them and asked if there would be to which they said yes, but immediately backpedaled on once they realized what they'd said.

Generally I lean towards PC and handheld for my current gen gaming, so I was disappointed by this news. I'm not really inclined to get the 360 version of the game in part because the price has barely budged on the thing since it came out, and also because I find it infinitely more comfy to lounge about with my laptop playing games than actually using a console now. However, this may change if I find it on the cheap, or I give up hope on a PC version, and just capitulate.

Personal biases aside, it still seems a strange choice on the part of Capcom to neglect the PC with this particular game. Firstly it's very much in line with the sorts of RPGs that PC gamers tend to gravitate toward. Dragon's Dogma certainly gives off a bit of an Elder Scrolls / Two Worlds / Risen sort of vibe with its exploration-heavy third person RPG-ing. Second, it feels that Capcom's release choices on the PC are a tad arbitrary. Stuff like Devil May Cry, Lost Planet, and Resident Evil gets a PC port just fine. They even released some Bionic Commando stuff for it, yet no Dragon's Dogma.

An interesting idea I heard recently about PC ports of games is that it seems in some cases a game only gets the port if it under performed on the consoles. An example of this could be Rockstar Games. Everyone was clamoring for Red Dead Redemption to come to PC, but LA Noire was ported instead. What's the difference between the two? The former sold like gangbusters on consoles, the latter not so much. So, it wouldn't be surprising if LA Noire got ported real quick as a means of scraping a few more dollars in on the project. Would Dragon's Dogma need to suffer a similar fate in order to get a PC port?

The game has done alright for itself since releasing, clocking in at a little over one million sales as of late June of this year. So perhaps Capcom is content with that. They've been pretty rigid about the game not only in terms of not porting it, but also refusing to drop the price on it. I usually see it in stores still at $60 and sales only see the thing come down to around $40. Maybe they see no reason to bother investing money in a port, and they are satisfied with how the game has done up until now.

Nonetheless, there are still a lot of people that have not yet picked up the game, and simply aren't interested in it until a PC port is made. The question here is if this is a vocal minority that would want the game. Moreover, could a port see a similar fate as Dark Souls did where many people railed for a PC version of the game, and when they finally got it people complained. Maybe Capcom saw this and decided against a PC version.

If there is genuine demand, though, it's hard to come to terms with Capcom not making a PC version of Dragon's Dogma. The game already has a good reputation, and it is a lot more similar to what PC gamers look for in an RPG than a lot of other JRPGs out there. With that, I just can't shake the thought that refusing to port the game is leaving money on the table.