Archive | July, 2020

Fist of the North Star: Lost Paradise

30 Jul

After the highs of Last of Us Part 2 and the mediocre middle of Horizon: Zero Dawn it’s no telling what game I would want to play next. 2020 has been an awful year. As all of American’s are locked down from the COVID-19, and Virginia starts to think about reopening, the thought of going out to Barnes and Noble, even to clear my head, is depressing enough. Sitting there with my mask on, it was hard to drink from my water bottle, and it didn’t result in me staying long or thinking about buying anything yet. But maybe to cheer me up, I bought Fist of the Northstar (2018) and it seemed like a fun bet. Any manga adaptation that has English voice actors over the anime characters is a win for me, and I just need something fun and escapist that comes with an anime with big men who walk across a post apocalyptic wasteland, and it can be fucking ridiculous at the same time. 

            For those who aren’t aware of Fist of the Northstar, it was a manga in the 80’s that cropped up around the time Berserk and Guin Saga were making there way into the manga fans hands in the nipponese brothers who would eat it up for four decades. Written by Buronson, the history surrounding it is often times never misconstrued the story, and it’s like eating raw meat, slamming away, button mashing, but it’s not the danger you feel for the main character, Kenshiro, who is a solemn warrior in the heights of an 80’s lifestyle in a post apocalyptic wasteland. Being the strongest means that death is failure, and puts you in the headspace of the character, Ken.

            Kenshiro is seeking his lover, Yuria, which was captured by Shin, after he stuck his fingers into his body, scarring him, and as he journeys through the wasteland, meeting people that he has to fight in order to find Yuria. The fighting is fabulous, and if you wanted your fun factor raised, it achieves that, but when it tries to exemplify the world it has, the voice actors aren’t there to help sell the world in every cut scene. It’s a shame to not have this, because Ken and the post apocalyptic world deserved more than being undersold. Kenshiro has to fight his way out of prison, as he has to find Yuria, as he is pitted against enemies who are lied to, at the same time, making it feel like an anime put into the force of a video game. 

The writing is ridiculous and fun, and over the top (if it weren’t in a game such as Fist of the Northstar, it would be out of place), and put you in the shoes of Kenshiro. Unlike the Berserk video game that doesn’t seem to know when it should just be about battles or story and world of Berserk, Fist of the North Star has the ability to get it right and achieve it’s results. The story is laid out over 10 chapters, and each are meant to force the player into situations that have fights that the player can control. You can’t leave the fights, and each fight is a test of all the abilities learned in the game, making you progress along as Kenshiro is. You also get to bar tend which is a cool feature, but again, the lack of voice actors in a video game is a crippling function in a video game. A book is meant to be read and you can hear the voices you want, but a video game, even in the in game cut scenes, that aren’t fed through texts, makes it frustrating to play. 

As an anime and manga reader, this is already hitting the buttons I need to play this game, but the lack of voices in certain scenes, is the problem when resulting in the Fist of the North Star: Paradise Lost. Some won’t mind this idea, but this is a game that prides itself on a story and most are just as complicit in not providing voice to all parts of the game. Helping ordinary people also helps unlock all the stars of Destiny, which can help you be as powerful. Good choices are rewarded in the world of North Star, as even you’re met with pacifists that want you to not use violence, but that’s all Kenshiro knows when met with another opposing force. 

            You have to learn new moves to battle your way through the game, as the player has to become the character, and not taking control of the game. It’s a scripted game, but the world is interesting and never seems dull. Maybe I’m a bit of a manga anime person, but it does give that anime manga person the grandeur and mystery and downright fun it needs to be. Even smacking enemies with metal planks as a form of sport is fun as well. 

            The world and the writing is there, and it’s a shame the actors weren’t paid to voice the in game cut scenes, as they only had enough to voice the main cut scenes with the major plot points. Having grunts represent a character’s opinion with scrolling text is big with these types of games, but it’s frustrating and brings me out of the world. This is when the game runs into problems.

            But what makes this game an embarrassment is simple: the production company, Ryu Ga Gotoku studios, has embarrassed a franchise that should have been so entertaining and provocative and pleasurable, into a game that turned a thousand hand slap into a game I couldn’t even finish. While the combat and the story is enticing, I can’t honestly give this game a score because the game doesn’t deserve a score. If I were the writer of the manga’s I would wipe this away from my legacy and call it a day. This is what gaming shouldn’t be. While the fighting is fun for about five chapters, the lack of good in game cutscene and the lack of innovation is what I call an incomplete game for a great series. The story is great, but what the series deserved was something better.

            Final Score: 2/10 and a total waste of your time. Go read the manga if you can find them. Go do something better than play this game. 

Horizon Zero Dawn Review

25 Jul

When Horizon: Zero Dawn came out, it was a game I originally wrote off after I played a few hours of it. Again, this was because of personal issues with the game, but as I came to realize, I was not playing the game on Story or Easy mode. Normal was a lot harder than I gave it credit for. The robot dinosaurs were far worse than I thought. It’s hard to process what a game is when you are playing the game on a high difficulty. I encourage anyone to play a game on its story or light mode first, to get the trophies and finish it for the story. This was my mistake and I’m not the best person to recommend most games. 

A budget and a bias exist in my purview. There are a lot of games and books I pick up later that allows me to give the book a “classic status” or even recommendation. The problem is that I gave up on Horizon: Zero Dawn too early because even on Normal, the game is extremely tough. The first play through of a game, for me, now, is on a fun easy playthrough, but always in a moderate level, unless it’s really demanding. Playing a game and reviewing it is new for me, but I am always improving on reviews or essays about games and my experiences with them.

With Horizon Zero Dawn, the problem is very clear. The voice acting is awful, and the delivery on what should be very impactful writing is undersold, and some delivery is well done, but it’s very off when it comes to being angry. The graphics are amazing and truly set a bar I didn’t expect to appreciate. The story is a mixture of all the games that have come before. Assassin’s Creed (open world and parkour), Last of Us (female protagonist), and a bit of spooky woo of a villain, Hades, that could have had a better more creative name and it would have worked perfectly on its own. Also Disney’s Brave. Aloy’s father dies too, but an argument could be made that he died more heroically, but then again, it has been quite a few years with games that have studied the father and daughter schema.  

The story is about Aloy, who is given the task of stopping the villainous machines, Hades, as she finds out that she is a clone of a character, Elizabeth Sobek, who stopped the machines 350,000 years ago. After she stumbles on a small Focus, an ear piece like device, that teaches her about the world. The mainline story is interesting as the quest to avenge her fallen Nora at a proving were attacked, a tribal ritual for the young Nora to be apart of the small tribe, is forced by her father to join, even though she is an outcast by the village for not having a mother. This seems like it was borrowed from other material to make a story that was already told before, but the rest of the quest seems like it falls in line with other campaigns from other games. 

The open world and graphics are the reason to play the game, but the dialogue deliver can be easily changed (and Aloy gets bristly in the DLC pack, the Winter ). It’s a game that follows in the skills of many other better games, but the lack of a charisma in Aloy, even in her most angry moments, reminds me of the days when Master Chief had more personality than her. Granted you can make the character as complex as you like, and that is rather stunning for an open world RPG. The choice to make Aloy a total shit person or a good person, has a nice flair to it, but the voice delivery is the weakness that cripples the game play. You can skip past it or hear it, but if Sylen’s is more calm than my character, I immediately thought he was the villain. Villains can help out hero’s too, but why did it feel so predictable by the end of the game. Sylen’s is the best character out of everyone, including Aloy. 

Maybe Guerilla has a thing for red heads or was wildly fucked by one and this is their interpretation of Disney’s Brave in a sci-fi world? Again, this would be a great game if it didn’t have a rather bland voice delivery in Horizon: Zero Dawn. The good news is, there is a sequel and it needs to find a better villain or the series won’t survive. Is it a masterpiece? No, but the world can help the future of the series survive. 

If you buy the complete edition, you get the Frozen Wilds DLC. As it turns out, there are varied other machines that Aloy finds as she moves through the wintry wilderness, the quests in it already feel the same like the rest of the story, and it seems like they didn’t even try to make it different. It’s hard to like this game when it doesn’t seem to want to try anything new. This is what I came to realize now once I replayed it and finished the game. I don’t like to give out opinions on games that I don’t finish. People work on artistic endeavors and it’s hard to just say, “Maybe I just didn’t get this.” It’s happened to me when people reviewed my work, and they over analyze it.  

The final verdict: Graphics and open world do not save this game when the voice delivery in game play is far more as important as writing. The writing is very well done, but the voice acting is atrocious. Even when Aloy is angry.

Final Verdict: 5/10 

Mandy: A Rambo for our Time

7 Jul

This review is a little different. It’s very rare that a movie speaks to a generation of millennials anymore. A film for the past eleven years, during the decade of Marvel films, all of them were bland, generic, after Joss Whedon’s “Age of Ultron” but a film that is not a part of a franchise like Marvel is hard to sell to an American audience. “The Big Picture: The Fight for Future Movies” by Ben Fritz illustrates the state of modern films, and to those who grew up with the 70’s films, the Marvel films are a depressing realization of pop art taken to its logical conclusion, which is based on a family friendly material, unless it was the Captain America films, which could be more than a generic popcorn extravaganza. Everyone loves a big budget film, but during the timing of Trump America, and the media meltdown on the news every night, it’s hard to look at films and games without seeing bias. Where Art needs to present itself is not usually in a big budget film. Enter Mandy. 

A film that should have been rejected upon its release in 2018. Even a lover of films and video games, I respond better to films that stand as “Art for Art’s sake” and revolt against the current bid of “Marvel family friendly films.” Mandy is a action horror film that should feel tired and uninventive. The problem is Mandy works on so many levels. It’s a film that embraces reality but also a mythological tale of vengeance and horror wrapped into a subtle Nic Cage performance that when turned to 11, it doesn’t feel slow or dragged. The story follows Red, who is a victim of abuse from religious fanatics, and demons they call upon in the guise of motorcycle gangs, but the obvious deception is that it all blends together. 

The horror of Red on his journey to hell is that he is vindicated in the journey, and the villains aren’t given any other “subtlety” as it has elements of “Hellraiser” with the gang as representation of what society views as horror. The villains aren’t seen, covered in mask, given distorted voices, as they have no backstory. The more a villain has a backstory the audience is not on Red’s side. Red is the character that Stallone in Rambo wished he could have played, without the muscles and the bravado, but Nic Cage has the everyman appeal of an Aragorn, and scenes are reminiscent of a fantasy horror epic, like Berserk, by Kentaro Miura. Written and directed by Panos Campastano’s, it’s a world that should have worked in another time, but still, the timelessness of the story, and the simple outline of a “revenge story” is what allows us to be on Red’s side. 

After watching his wife being burned inside a bag, and the sounds the picture gives is what gives Mandy the edge that most other films don’t have. It’s willing to go dark when society can’t take it. While this review is late, the importance of the review still stands. I was not born when Blade Runner or Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, but I can realize the importance of the text of Philip K. Dick and Ridley Scott’s interpretation. What Mandy does is realize what it’s strengths and weaknesses are, and the grain used in Mandy is almost used to nostalgic effects, since it does take place in the 80’s. 

If having a crisp and clear presentation works, the Marvel films should have won Best Picture Oscars by now. It’s clear that what’s popular is not always good, but films like Mandy prove that vision will help a picture succeed in multiple viewings. You can see something different every single time. What makes Mandy special is that it’s not being followed up by a sequel, because even after the film is over, the audience is exhausted by the end, and we all want Red to live a normal life after, but the film might promise a sequel, but if it was, it would become a brand and not a work of art. 

The first Rambo film is the equivalent of commerce and art working together, as the plot of the film is thin, grindhouse with a heart. Mandy doesn’t want to overcomplicate it’s message and it’s more meaningful as we see the film turn into a darker gem that should stay one film. What also made the first Rambo a success is that “the simplicity is what makes a revenge film far easier to swallow,” and at least Mandy follows through with the act of revenge, where Last of Us II fails. The film’s scenery of the Pacific Northwest was filmed in Belgium, to LOTR like beauty. The anti-religious material works for the time of the movie, and if put in today’s context, the film would not have worked well.

            Campastanos was talking about a sequel where Red was “hunting neo nazi’s in a punked out city” “I don’t know if that would ever happen, but it’s a fun thought” (https://www.indiewire.com/2018/10/mandy-sequel-panos-cosmatos-nicolas-cage-1202015102/) was the directors words, and I think it would be a bad fit for 2020, and for Red, since he’s not a mad dog who would blindly kill, unless he had a motivation that wasn’t contrived or told before. What is outstanding is that Nic Cage, who I think should “ham up the movie” is the amazing part of the film, alongside the direction and writing, who turns in one of his best performances in his career (as I would place this with a tie in Richard Stanley’s adaptation of HP Lovecraft’s Color out of Space). What can be said is that the film would be unnecessary with a sequel and after the ordeal Red goes through, I only wish him to have the victory gained, but a character like Red, shouldn’t be exploited, such as Rambo was. The problem is that Mandy should have been known, and even I overlooked it at the time. This film will be up there with cult films of Dario Argento and Salo: 120 days of Sodom. 

            Rating: 10/10